Student visas acquired by ‘fraud’ - as undercover footage shows invigilator reading out the answers

Theresa May describes the findings as a matter of 'grave concern'

Student visas have been acquired through a network of unscrupulous immigration agents who sell forged bank documents and provide “stand-ins” to sit English language exams, according to a new investigation.

The government last night announced that it had “suspended” two colleges identified by a BBC Panorama programme that claimed undercover reporters had illegally purchased every single document required to apply for a student visa from one agent for just £2,800.

Jay Sudra, a former Border Agency immigration officer, said the revelations “damaged the credibility of the entire visa process”, while the Home Secretary, Theresa May, described the findings as a matter of “grave concern”. On Sunday evening the government announced it had “suspended” two of the colleges in the programme while an investigation is carried out.

Undercover footage taken inside a government approved exam centre in East London apparently showed candidates being replaced by ringers minutes before the tests started. The “fake sitters” answered written and oral papers, submitting their answers to a secure terminal, while the real candidates were called to be photographed as “proof” of taking the test.

In the second half of the test – filmed inside Eden College International – an invigilator was filmed reading out the answers to all 200 questions. It meant the candidates completed the two-hour exams in just seven minutes, with many scoring some of the highest results in the country.

Eden College International strongly denies any wrongdoing, but said it had investigated allegations against three freelance exam invigilators last year. Although the college’s findings were non-conclusive, the invigilators’ contracts were not renewed.

The investigation – due to be broadcast tonight – also showed how an immigration agent bypassed rules for applicants who do not meet the financial criteria. “We find someone with the same name with money in their account and that is used for you,” the agent, said to be a representative of Studentway Education, told the undercover reporter. “So when there is need for verification, it’s verified for you till you get your visa.”

The student visa system has long been seen as providing loopholes for those wishing to remain in Britain. The Coalition has tried to crack down on fraud, beginning a series of additional checks in 2011. But immigration lawyer Harjap Singh Bhangal told Panorama: “The Government has created a marketplace for fraud.”

Studentway Education denies any wrongdoing. The firm’s director, Varinder Bajarh told the programme that the agency is “a respected organisation”. He said two of the men filmed were never employees but may have used the office without his knowledge.

Last night a statement from Theresa May said: “We have taken action and suspended the two colleges identified in the programme. Applications made by students in the UK using the English Testing Service or associated with the colleges or immigration advisors mentioned in the programme have been put on hold pending the outcome of those investigations. All further English language tests done through ETS in the UK have been suspended.”

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