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Overseas Student Numbers Hit by Visa Crackdown

More than 19,000 international students were told to leave the UK in the past year, or were barred from entering the country. This came as a result of the government’s crackdown on allegations of language qualification fraud and the suspension of oversears recruitment at three universities and dozens of colleges in June 2014.

Almost 20,000 students told to leave or were refused entry, while over 900 were detained.  Source: REX/THES Almost 20,000 students told to leave or were refused entry, while over 900 were detained. Source: REX/THES
04-06-2015 by Times Higher Education Supplement

According to Home Office statistics, decisions to refuse a visa application, to curtail an existing visa or to remove a student were made in “more than 19,700” cases. This was the result of the government's crackdown on allegations of language qualification fraud and th suspension of overseas recruitment at three universities and dozens of colleges in June 2014.

For the year to April 2015, there were 900 students held in detention centres after they were served with removal notices.

This Home Office action resulted in 84 private colleges losing their visa sponsorship rights, while the licences of five institutions remain suspended. However, the universities involved were eventually allowed to start recruiting again.

The Home Office had identified 33,725 invalid results and students who were found to have cheated to get an English language qualification for their visa application were told to leave. There were 22,694 incidents where students were considered to have had “questionable” scores, mostly because they had attended a test centre where large numbers of invalid scores were discovered.

But it is believed that some students who had their visas curtailed had enrolled in good faith at a college that later lost its licence.

Some of the students who were told to leave were ultimately able to remain because they found a place at another college and were therefore eligible for a new visa. But the number is this category was small according to the National Union of Students. Few of those affected had their tuition fees refunded.  Colleges were also nervous of taking such students on for fear that their own sponsorship status could be affected.

The union’s international students’ officer, Shreya Paudel, said that there had been “little evidence” against most of the students involved. “These statistics expose a shocking example of the government scapegoating international students,” he said.

According to a Home Office spokesman, the removal action had been taken only “against people where there is clear evidence that they cheated in a test”. Individuals whose scores were believed to be questionable were invited to take another test “to demonstrate their language competence”.

The Home Office spokesman said: “The student immigration system inherited in 2010 was open to widespread abuse.” “In its place, we are building an immigration system that works in the national interest by attracting the brightest and best to study in our world-class universities, not allowing bogus colleges to cheat the rules.”

But universities have blamed the government's policies and rhetoric for a reduction in the number of students coming to the UK from some key countries. Universities will therefore be watching to see if the government tones down policies and rhetoric.

The immigration bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech on 27 May, is the first challenge. This bill focuses on the principle of “deport first, appeal later” from criminal cases only to all immigration cases.  This is likely to affect students.

There are concerns that there might be a shortage of language testing centres for students overseas hoping to study at private colleges or pathway providers in the UK. The fraud investigation led to the Educational Testing Service (ETS), being banned from the UK market. (The ETS is the provider that offered the qualifications that were targeted.)  There is now only one overseas provider of approved tests.