Bogus colleges 'not being tackled'

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The Independent Online

The Government's failure to tackle the problem of bogus colleges has allowed tens of thousands of illegal immigrants to come to the UK, a damning report warns today.

The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee said most came in on fraudulent visas in order to work illegally and not to further their education. Fears were raised over the checks carried out on foreign students after a group of Pakistani students were arrested in anti-terror raids in north-west England. No charges were brought, but the Home Office is still trying to deport seven students on the grounds they pose a threat to national security. Two others face deportation over visa irregularities.

Since March this year, all education institutions which want to bring non-EU students into the country need to be approved by the UK Border Agency (UKBA). But the report revealed Home Office concerns over the effectiveness of checks on colleges from two years ago.

The committee chairman and Labour MP Keith Vaz said it was "unacceptable and unbelievable" that ministers had done nothing about the problem despite knowing about it for more than a decade.

He said: "Bogus colleges may have allowed tens of thousands of foreign nationals to enter the country illegally: the Government has been aware of their existence for 10 years and done nothing to stop them.

"This is totally unacceptable and frankly, quite unbelievable. This should not be allowed to continue and action must be taken immediately. Firm enforcement action must be taken against any individual whose student visa has expired to ensure that they leave the country, as well as against those who have set up bogus colleges to perpetrate visa fraud. We are not convinced that this is happening at the moment."

The report questioned the rigour of college inspections by officials and criticised the UKBA for giving advance notice of inspections to more than 80 per cent of colleges. Use of the term "college" should be restricted to registered institutions, the committee said.

A UKBA report in 2007 found that "an unknown number of private institutions are operating largely to provide low-quality teaching to those wishing to enter or remain in the UK as students whilst working illegally".

It revealed officials were checking bogus colleges already on a government list of approved institutions, instead of examining them when they applied. The committee accepted the new system appeared to be "more effective" at tackling bogus colleges but said it was "cautious" about the UKBA's ability to deal with the problem.

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