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.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea