Universities and colleges have won an 11th-hour exemption from statutory registration to regulate immigration advisers. Student advice services, however, will still have to conform to a strict code of practice from April 30.
After hard university lobbying, immigration minister Barbara Roche confirmed last week that universities, colleges of further and higher education and student unions will get group exemptions from a compulsory registration scheme designed to clamp down on unscrupulous commercial immigration advice services.
University and college-based student advisers were concerned that the scheme, which will criminalise unregistered immigration advisers, was too onerous for over-stretched student advice services. They argued that the red tape would damage institutions' ability to attract fee-paying overseas students.
But in answer to a parliamentary question last week, Ms Roche confirmed that despite the exemption, the education sector will still have to comply with a code of standards imposed by the immigration services commissioner, the statutory regulator set up under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Student advisers will also have to meet a list of designated "competences".
The code covers advisers' behaviour and the organisational structures of advice services. It also lists "competencies" that advisers must conform to.
Ukcosa, the United Kingdom Council for Overseas Student Affairs, had argued the paperwork was too much for student advice services, which are often staffed by one person.
The code requires, for example, a clear paper trail outlining a formal arrangement between client and adviser, even after the most basic contact. Ukcosa argued that even if a student simply asks for help to fill in a form, a formal letter must be issued confirming the adviser/client relationship.
The code also calls on organisations to "demonstrate that their supervision processes ensure the provision of competent immigration advice or services".