Skip to main content

Immigration: “Bogus” Colleges

Volume 716: debated on Monday 25 January 2010


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they have taken in the last six months to prevent illegal immigration through the use of “bogus” colleges and to close down student loan scams used to obtain visas.

There are currently around 2,000 sponsors on the tier 4 register. In the past six months we have carried out around 600 inspections, suspending 140 and revoking 15 tier 4 licences. United Kingdom Border Agency staff are trained to spot forged loan documents. Applicants who use them are refused and may be banned from entering the United Kingdom for up to 10 years. On 12 November 2009, the Prime Minister announced a review of tier 4 that will report back shortly.

The Minister will know that I asked the question last July. Why is it still so easy for these bogus colleges to operate and to bring in illegal immigrant students? Why is it that at this time we have a large number of sham applications from Pakistani students? It would appear that the assessment of their entry requirements is done outside Pakistan by one of our embassies. Is that not a situation where that embassy has no idea of the tricks of the trade in that part of the world? Would it not be far better if the whole assessment was done by our own people in Pakistan?

My Lords, the noble Lord asks a large number of questions. First, I do not accept that we have not got a handle on these various colleges. There were initially some 15,000 colleges in the DIUS list, of which about 4,000 regularly had foreign students. After going through them and guaranteeing that they are bone fide colleges, we have now reduced that number to about 2,000. We have made careful checks of those colleges—I mentioned the number that we have closed down—so we have a very strong handle on that.

On the students coming into the country, it is important to keep in balance the fact that foreign students in this country, just in terms of fees, bring in £2.5 billion a year; with all the other added value, it is about £8.5 billion a year. We have to balance that against ensuring that we do not get a lot of people coming here who are not entitled to be in this country. I think we keep that balance fairly well correct and we are very good at doing those checks. I could go into more detail, but I will open it up for more questions.

My Lords, is there any truth in the suggestion that, of the 66,000 people who came to this country from Pakistan in the nine months to last September, only 29 were interviewed by British immigration officials and the rest by contracted interviewers in Pakistan or elsewhere?

My Lords, the system is that we look at documentation before any of the people provide their biometrics. After looking at that documentation, we assess whether we need to have a face-to-face interview. We are content that we are achieving good results. Indeed, I was speaking earlier today to the independent watchkeeper, who was appointed last year; we will see in his report, which comes out later this week, that he is fairly satisfied with the levels that have been achieved.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that this matter goes wider than just immigration? Is there not a reputational issue for the country—I appreciate that he is a Home Office Minister, but this is joined-up government—in having colleges which purport to provide first-class education but are, in the terms of the Question, “bogus”?

My Lords, I had hoped that I had answered that question—we now have a clear view of what sort of schools are allowed. Since March 2009, for any school wishing to bring people in we have a team which inspects it and looks at the whole area, including the quality of its courses. We make sure that the school is aware of what it has to do in terms of where those students move to if they leave the college. There is, in effect, a tick-off list of things that colleges have to go through. That is why some have been suspended. Indeed, there have been bogus colleges, but we are taking enforcement action. There is a lot of money in this. One college in east London was closed because it was not meeting the requirements. It was quite clearly bringing in people for immigration purposes. Two of the people had £2.65 million in cash at their home address. It must have been an awfully big suitcase. They have been put inside for about eight years each—25 years in total for the team. So we are enforcing and we are doing things.

My Lords, is it not possible for the Minister to ensure that information about bogus or bona fide colleges is available to students when they make their applications, because in many cases it is perfectly feasible to fall into the trap of applying to colleges that are not genuine?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises a good point. I would be surprised if something was not available and I will check and get back to the noble Lord in writing. If there is not, I will ensure that the Home Office provides that information.

My Lords, the Minister has been very positive about government policy; that is what we would expect of him. However, he also said that in the examination of 600 colleges, 140 were closed. Who takes responsibility for the prior existence of those 140 colleges which were not fit for purpose?

In fact, to be precise, I said that 140 were suspended; 15 have had their licences removed. The UKBA would have to take that responsibility because it carried out the inspections with DIUS, not having made sure that the colleges were appropriate. That is why there is re-checking to ensure that this is done.

My Lords, the Minister must know the number of visas issued. Is there any way of correlating this with the number of students who have or have not left this country at the end of their courses?

My Lords, when we have e-borders we will be able to check people in and out much more accurately. With biometrics we will be able to tally those numbers. At the moment, we are not able exactly to do that. Since tier 4 was launched, we have been dealing with just short of half a million applications. We are dealing with very large numbers of people. When e-borders are introduced, we will have a much better handle on this and be able to know exactly who has come in, who has gone out and where we stand.

My Lords, what happens to a person who has legitimately obtained an entry certificate to attend a college which is subsequently declared to be bogus? Can he transfer to a legitimate institution or is he sent back home?

My Lords, he is allowed to transfer to another institution, but these institutions now have to be properly registered.

My Lords, I am not sure whether this is the Minister’s responsibility, but, considering the needs in Haiti, is he willing to engage with the Government in providing more opportunities—educational scholarships and so on—to those who have suffered so much in the devastation over the past two weeks?

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House sends its deepest sympathy. What has happened in Haiti is absolutely appalling. I am wary of making a commitment to do anything—I get into enough trouble as it is—but I will look into it.