Commentary by Sir Andrew Green
Chairman of Migration Watch UK
The Daily Mail, London, 30 December, 2009
We got lucky - this time. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian graduate of University College London who tried to blow up a passenger aircraft over Detroit, was turned down for a UK student visa when he applied for one in May.
He had been stupid enough to try to enrol in one of the 2,000 colleges the Government has at last realised are bogus.
But make no mistake, there are others who will succeed where he failed. Why?
Because the Government's new visa system is a disaster whose full results have yet to be seen. Yes, Abdulmutallab was stopped, but 370,000 student visas were issued last year.
How many of those were bogus students coming here to work on the black market? And how many were potential terrorists?
The simple answer is, we don't know and we may never know.
The new visa system requires a student to acquire 40 points before they are issued with a visa.
Thirty points are awarded automatically if he or she has a letter of acceptance from one of 3,000 educational institutions in Britain now licensed to issue such letters.
The other ten points are awarded if the student can show sufficient funds for the first year's fees and to live on during the year.
If they have the points, they get the visa. That's the theory. The reality, though, is that the system is rotten to the core. Here are ten reasons why. . .
1) It completely underestimates immigration pressures
Liam Byrne, the last but one in a long line of immigration ministers, imposed a system which looks neat and tidy on a flow chart. But, unfortunately, it takes no account of the massive pressures from people in poor countries (and their relations in Britain) to get into the UK by fair means or foul.
2) The ‘key requirement’ has been removed
The key requirement, the touchstone of the previous system, was a judgment as to
whether the applicant genuinely intended to return home after their studies. Britain is an international hub of business and culture. Many wish to come and are very welcome. What matters is those who stay — especially those who stay illegally — as our island is already full to bursting. A population of 70million is now the official projection for 2029.
3) The application process has been contracted out to commercial firms
In most cases, the Immigration Officer in the British Consulate abroad never even sees the applicant, so he has no means of judging whether he or she is genuine. If you want a visa for Britain, you no longer apply at the consulate. Instead, you go to one of two commercial companies, one American-owned and the other Indian. They have the contract to take your photograph and fingerprints and check over your 41- page application form.
4) The system is transparent — to forgery
Under the new system, you can go on the internet and find out exactly what documents you need. Then, in many countries, you can simply go out and buy forged versions of them.
They can be sent off to some educational institution in Britain which has no means of checking them before sending you a letter of acceptance. That process gives an applicant 30 points. They need only ten more to gain entry to Britain. For that, a bank statement showing £5,000 for the past 30 days is all you need. Easy. Borrow
it from an agent at seven-and-a-half per cent interest. Pay it back when you are working illegally in Britain.
And if you are a student you can take your wife or husband with you. You can work legally for 20 hours a week (how can that be policed?) and your spouse can work without restriction.
Now we can see the reasons why applications in the Indian sub-continent are running at about 500 a day, many with ‘dependants’.
5) A presumption of issue
Previously, the presumption was that a visa would not be issued unless it was absolutely clear that the applicant would return at the end of his or her studies. But the new system is based on the presumption that a visa will be issued if the points are achieved. So the balance of judgment has been turned on its head. An immigration officer can now only challenge an application if he or she has grounds to suspect one of the documents. In countries such as Nigeria and Pakistan, forgery is endemic and sophisticated.
6) The interview phase has been removed
This was a key deterrent to bogus students and potential terrorists. It has virtually gone. Of the 66,000 Pakistanis granted a visa to enter Britain in a nine month period, only 29 were interviewed. Inevitably, that means suspects slip through the net. Some of those recently arrested for terrorist offences in Britain were Pakistanis from the extremist-controlled North West Frontier District wanting to do business studies in Manchester. Ask yourself. Would they have got past a real live Immigration officer? I think not.
7) The colleges hold the keys to Britain
The keys to Britain’s front door now lie in the hands of the administrators at the 3,000 educational establishments which are licensed to issue Letters of Acceptance for Studies. What do they know of conditions in faraway countries, let alone the credibility of applicants?
8) These institutions have a financial interest in the outcome
All these institutions gain financially from foreign students. Some virtually depend on them. So it is in their interests to encourage as many as possible to apply for visas, regardless of their background or motivation.
9) One size does not fit all
This highly bureaucratic system has been applied to students from all countries despite widely different immigration risks. The result is futile bureaucracy for students from, for example, Japan or the U.S. who are most unlikely to overstay but who may
be discouraged from applying.
10) No exit controls
This system was brought into effect before there were effective measures to record people arriving and leaving Britain. The true dimensions of this scandal are, as usual with Home Office failures, concealed by bland statements. It is only a matter of time before the full consequences — which could include a terrorist attack on Britain — become apparent.
None of these problems is simple to solve — but it is vital that we do so. If we continue to lose control of our borders, we lose control of our society.
That day is not far off.
© Copyright of Sir Andrew Green