UK Border Agency officers will be given new powers to interview international students and refuse visas if they are not satisfied the applicant is genuine, Immigration Minister Damian Green has said.
The targeted interview system will be introduced on 30th July 2012, ahead of the summer surge in student applications. Officers will concentrate on uncovering abuse in countries where it has been most prevalent, UK Border Agency said.
Across the globe high-risk applicants will be identified and asked a number of questions about their immigration and education history, study and post-study plans, and financial circumstances.
The agency is expected to carry out up to 14,000 student applicant interviews next year.
“With more interviews and greater powers to refuse bogus students we will weed out abuse and protect the UK from those looking to play the system,” Immigration Minister Damian Green said.
He noted that the current system doesn’t allow UK Border Agency officers to refuse some applications even if they doubt the credibility of the student. “We are toughening up the system to keep out the fraudulent and unqualified while ensuring genuine students benefit from our country’s excellent education sector,” Mr. Green said. “Britain is open for business to the brightest and the best migrants but the message is clear – if you try to hide your true motivation for coming to the UK then you will be found out and refused a visa.”
Last year the UK Border Agency carried out an interviewing pilot to tackle concerns about the legitimacy of some applicants. More than 2,300 student visa applicants were interviewed in 13 overseas posts with the aim of testing how effective face-to-face interviews and new refusal powers would be – in addition to existing strict application processes that consider fraud and other factors.
Under the pilot around a fifth of applicants were refused entry to the UK following their interview. One of the main issues was the inability of interviewees to display the required level of English. Some were unable to answer basic questions in English without the aid of an interpreter – despite stating on their application forms that they had the necessary language qualifications to study at higher and further education institutions in the UK.
Agency officials indicated that they were concerned about the legitimacy of 32 per cent of the rest of those interviewed and could have turned down the visa if the power to refuse on genuineness was available. Around 60 per cent of these applicants were coming to study at a private higher or further education college, and 14 per cent at a university.
Other government measures to tighten up the immigration system have driven up the quality of the institutions wishing to bring in international students. Over 450 colleges are no longer able to bring in students from overseas.
The number of student visas issued has fallen by 21 per cent over the last year, UK Border Agency said.