Visa crackdown on colleges: Tories aim to shut 'back door to bogus students'

Darren Evans

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Colleges have urged the government to reconsider a new crackdown on visa fraud amid warnings that it will harm the country’s ability to attract foreign students.

Immigration minister James Brokenshire today announced that rules allowing non-European Union students attending publicly funded FE colleges to work for up to 10 hours a week would be scrapped.

The Home Office said the rules were being tightened after officials detected early signs of increased fraud at some publicly funded colleges and discovered immigration advisers advertising college visas as a means to work in the UK.

New reforms will also cut FE visas from three to two years, prevent students applying for work visas unless they leave the country first, and prevent FE students extending their UK studies unless they are registered at an institution with a formal link to a university.

The Home Office has already removed sponsorship licences from more than 870 bogus colleges since 2010 as part of a drive to root out abuse of the immigration system.

Now it says the new reforms are focusing on publicly funded colleges to prevent fraud moving around the system and to ensure that new foreign college students are genuinely coming to the UK to study, not to work.

Mr Brokenshire said the changes would protect the UK’s reputation for educational excellence and stop immigration cheats from abusing publicly funded colleges.

“Immigration offenders want to sell illegal access to the UK jobs market – and there are plenty of people willing to buy. Hard-working taxpayers who are helping to pay for publicly funded colleges expect them to be providing top-class education, not a back door to a British work visa.”

But Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said international students made an important financial and educational contribution to the country, and insisted that colleges took their work as sponsors of non-EU students seriously. 

“Colleges have well-established and stringent attendance monitoring systems in place to mitigate against any potential abuse and the sector is keen to see any evidence that it is being used as a 'back door for bogus students',” he said.

“Preventing international FE students from continuing to study in the UK after they have finished their studies will limit the progression of students from colleges to universities. The government risks seriously restricting the UK's ability to attract international students. A-levels and international foundation year courses represent legitimate study routes for international students, with many going on to successfully complete degrees at top-ranking universities. 

“In blocking the route from further education to university, the government will do long-term harm to the UK as an international student destination and this policy needs urgent reconsideration."

The new rules will be introduced in Parliament this week. Work rights restrictions will be enforced from August, with the other changes to be implemented in the autumn. They do not apply to universities.

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