This summer UK border agency officers will be given new powers to interview international students and refuse visas if they are not satisfied the applicant is genuine, immigration minister Damian Green announced today.
The targeted interview system will be introduced ahead of the summer surge in student applications. Officers will concentrate on uncovering abuse in countries where it has been most prevalent.
Across the globe high-risk applicants will be identified and asked a number of questions about their immigration and education history, study and post-study plans, and financial circumstances. During the next year it is expected the agency will carry out up to 14,000 student applicant interviews.
Immigration minister Damian Green said:
‘With more interviews and greater powers to refuse bogus students we will weed out abuse and protect the UK from those looking to play the system.
‘Under the current system UK border agency officers are unable to refuse some applications even if they have serious concerns over the credibility of the student - we are toughening up the system to keep out the fraudulent and unqualified while ensuring genuine students benefit from our country’s excellent education sector.
‘Britain is open for business to the brightest and the best migrants but the message is clear - if you try to hide your true motivation for coming to the UK then you will be found out and refused a visa.’
Today’s announcement follows a successful pilot carried out by the UK border agency last year to tackle concerns about the legitimacy of some applicants. More than 2,300 student visa applicants were interviewed in 13 overseas posts with the aim of testing how effective face-to-face interviews and new refusal powers would be - in addition to existing strict application processes that consider fraud and other factors.
Under the pilot around a fifth of applicants were refused entry to the UK following their interview. One of the main issues was the inability of interviewees to display the required level of English. Some were unable to answer basic questions in English without the aid of an interpreter - despite stating on their application forms that they had the necessary language qualifications to study at higher and further education institutions in the UK.
Agency officials indicated that they were concerned about the legitimacy of 32 per cent of the rest of those interviewed and could have turned down the visa if the power to refuse on genuineness - which we are introducing today - was available. Around 60 per cent of these applicants were coming to study at a private higher or further education college, and 14 per cent at a university.
Other government measures to tighten up the immigration system have driven up the quality of those institutions wishing to bring in international students. Over 450 colleges are no longer able to bring in students from overseas.
In addition the number of student visas issued has fallen by 21 per cent over the last year. The new powers will come into force on 30 July.
Notes to editors
During the pilot (between December 2011 and February 2012) over 2,300 student visa applicants were interviewed in 13 overseas posts. The countries ranged from Bangladesh to Burma, from China to Canada, from India to Egypt, and from Pakistan to the Philippines.
Just over a sixth (17 per cent) of applicants were refused a visa under existing rules. More than one fifth (24 per cent) of these refusals were on English language grounds. The refusal rates varied between countries, with only 4 per cent from the USA/Canada being refused but 45 per cent being refused from Burma. Other significant refusal rates were in Bangladesh (38 per cent); Egypt (28 per cent); India (29 per cent) and Sri Lanka (27 per cent).
UK border officials indicated they could potentially have refused 32 per cent of the rest of those interviewed on credibility grounds, if they had the power.
The findings of the pilot can be found here - http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/science-research-statistics/research-statistics/immigration-asylum-research/occ104
Students from low risk countries who already benefit from a streamlined application process introduced last year will be exempt from the ‘genuine student’ test. These include:
Argentina, Australia, Brunei, British National (Overseas), Canada, Chile, Croatia, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, Taiwan and the USA.
Under a further change introduced today, it will also be possible for an official to refuse entry to an applicant who fails to attend an interview without providing a reasonable explanation.
Since April 2011 entry clearance officers have been able to refuse a student’s application if they are unable to display the appropriate level of English.
For more information please call the home office press office on 020 7035 3535