23 July, 2012
1 Students make up a large proportion of those who enter the country each year, making it imperative that only those who enter should be genuine. The recent Home Office pilot scheme designed to assess a student’s credibility found that, amongst those who failed the credibility test, a large number had no intention to leave the UK. Despite this evidence, the Home Office has excluded this key assessment from its interview programme. Furthermore, the scale of interviews proposed (10-14,000) is far too small to tackle ten times that number of applications of whom over 60,000 could well be bogus.
2 This paper will evaluate the results of the Home Office pilot scheme of interviews and will demonstrate that an assessment of a student’s intention to leave the UK following completion of their course is a key determinant of credibility and should be introduced with immediate effect.
The Importance of students in the Immigration System
3 Student migration has grown significantly over the last decade. In 2000, the International Passenger Survey recorded 54,000 non-EEA students coming to the UK to study. Almost eleven years later this figure had almost quadrupled to 201,000 in the year ending September 2011. Students now make up over 60% of the IPS.
4 Crucially there are no checks on departures from the UK, unlike the US and Australia. The authorities are therefore unable to know whether or not a student has left the country, thus incentivising people to remain in the country illegally.
5 For these reasons it is especially important to be sure that those students who are issued with a visa to study are indeed genuine.
6 There are two tests of credibility. The first is whether or not the student is genuine; does the student have both the ability and the intention to study their chosen course? The second test is whether or not they plan to return. If not, such students are simply using the student route as a means of gaining settlement or remaining illegally in the UK.
7 Until 2008, students were assessed for their credibility by an Entry Clearance Officer overseas. If the ECO was satisfied that the student passed both components of the test then a visa could be issued.
8 Following the introduction of the Points Based System (PBS) in 2008, the interview was abolished and the application process became a box ticking exercise. Students no longer had to prove that they had both the intention and ability to study nor the intention to return. If they have a Certificate of Acceptance from an education provider in Britain together with sufficient funds they are now granted a visa.
9 Following the introduction of the PBS and the abolition of the interview, there was an over 30% increase in the number of student visas issued in the first year of operation. Visa applications in some parts of the Indian Subcontinent were suspended for several months following this dramatic rise in applications amid fears that many applications were bogus.
10 The National Audit Office estimated that in the first year of the PBS between 40,000 and 50,000 bogus students may have entered the UK to work rather than study.
Return of the Interview?
11 In December 2011 the Home Office began a three month student interview pilot scheme. Students at a selection of both high and low risk posts were interviewed in person or over the telephone to assess their credibility. The assessment comprised of four elements:
12 The results of the pilot demonstrate that interviews are required in order to assess the credibility of students and show beyond doubt that the current PBS is incapable of distinguishing a genuine from a bogus student. Of those interviewed from Burma, 62% would potentially have been refused a visa to study on credibility grounds. As many as 59% of applicants interviewed from Bangladesh, India and Nigeria failed the credibility test. Over 50,000 student visas were issued to applicants from these three countries in 2011. We estimate that over 60,000 bogus students could have entered the UK in 2011 alone. (See Annex A)
Table 1. Rate of potential refusals on credibility grounds by post
|Post||Interviewees assessed on credibility||% of grants which would potentially be refused on credibility grounds|
13 This abuse was not confined to the private further education sector. Of those who were potential refusals on credibility grounds, 14% were applying for a visa in order to study at a UK university and a further 17% at a publicly funded college.
14 In the light of this pilot study, the Home Office has introduced new regime in which between 10,000 and 14,000 student applications will be interviewed. The interviews have been designed to assess whether a student is able to study their course, whether they intend to study their course, and whether they have sufficient resources to maintain themselves and any dependants. The interviews will not assess a student’s intention to return to their country of origin upon completion of their studies.
15 In certain countries, the assessment of a student’s intention to return captured more bogus students than any other of the four piloted tests. For example, of those from the Gulf region who failed the credibility test as whole, only 44% failed the intention to study test yet 83% failed the intention to return test. Of those applicants from Pakistan who failed the test, 93% failed the intention to study test yet 97% failed the intentions to return test. (See Annex B) Using data from the pilot scheme it can be estimated that 3,700 applicants who applied at the posts in Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and the Gulf were issued with a visa to study in the UK although they may have had no intention to return but would have passed the more limited interview process that the Home Office has now implemented. (See Annex C)
16 Despite ECOs, when consulted, having regarded both a test of intention to study and an intention to leave the UK “as the two most important elements in assessing potential credibility” the Home Office guidance to Entry Clearance Officers states the following:
“For those considered to be genuine students, intention to leave the UK at the end of the course is not relevant as there are many bases on which an individual could lawfully remain in the UK”
17 There are in fact only three ways in which a student can legally stay on in the UK after their study: students can claim and be granted asylum; they can ‘switch’ into Tier 2 if they successfully obtain employment in a graduate level job, earning a minimum of £20,000 with a UKBA approved employer, and they can marry a British or settled person. The existence of these routes is no justification whatsoever for granting visas to applicants whose circumstances clearly indicate that they are unlikely to return home. Indeed, the wording of the guidance (which is publicly available) is almost an invitation to apply as a student with the intention of overstaying.
Australia and the ‘Genuine Temporary Entrant’ Requirement
18 The Australians, so frequently quoted with approval by the University lobby, take an entirely different approach to these matters. Following significant abuse of the student visa system in Australia, the Knight Review concluded that ‘the first item of business in assessing a student visa application should be whether the applicant is a genuine temporary entrant. This new criterion should be the first to be considered in assessing any application for a student visa.” The Australia authorities grasp that a student who has no intention of remaining a temporary student is abusing the student route so as to stay on, legally or otherwise. The student route is not designed to be a means of obtaining permanent residence so students applying to study in the Australia must demonstrate that they are temporary and have an intention to return. (See Annex D for the Australian guidance on the point.)
19. The omission of an assessment of a student’s intention to return is a serious weakness in a major entry route to the UK. We therefore recommend that the Home Office urgently review their recently introduced interview programme and introduce the Australian system with immediate effect.
Number of potentially bogus students admitted to the UK in 2011, based on results of Home Office Pilot Scheme.
|Country||2011 Student Visa Grants||Rate of refusal (Pilot)||Potential bogus visa grants (2011)|
Percentage of potential refusals on credibility grounds by factor and post, Home Office Pilot Scheme.
|Percentage of refusals by factor|
|Post||Intention to Study||Intention to Return|
Potential percentage of visa grants in 2011who would pass Home Office interview but may have had no intention of returning home.
|% of refusals by factor (Pilot Scheme)||Analysis of 2011 Visa data using Pilot Results|
|Post||Intention to Study||Intention to Return||Difference||Number of Student Visas 2011 by country||Students potentially admitted under HO Interview system but would fail intention to return test|
Note: Pilot relates to applicants in posts rather than by nationality. Visa data relates to nationality of applicants. There may therefore be a small number of applicants of other nationalities applying at the posts in Pakistan. Philippines. Sri Lanka and the Gulf.
Guidance on Genuine Temporary Entrant Requirement for Students wishing to Study in Australia.
How will the GTE requirement operate?
To be granted a student visa, applicants must satisfy the department that they have a genuine intention to stay in Australia temporarily.
Factors that the department considers as part of the GTE requirement include: