Tough new rules on unscrupulous immigration advisers could cripple student advice services and damage recruitment, the overseas students council has warned. The United Kingdom Council for Overseas Student Affairs has said that numerous new rules in a Home Office code of practice are "onerous", "impractical" or "pointless".
The rules are designed primarily to keep commercial immigration advisers in check, and will stretch already under-resourced university services, reducing the number of overseas students who can be helped and damaging recruitment, says Ukcosa.
The draft code on standards, issued for consultation by the Home Office earlier this month, is part of a raft of measures to regulate immigration under the much-criticised Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. All providers of immigration and advice services will have to comply with the code, imposed by a new immigration services commissioner, from April 2001.
Clive Saville, chief executive of Ukcosa, said: "Obviously we are in favour of the principle that students should get good advice, but there is too much red tape in this code. It will make it more difficult for universities to do the job. It will simply mean that advice is given to fewer students and it will be a further barrier to the recruitment of overseas students."
A key concern is the cumulative effect of paperwork. Whenever a student asks for advice, even if it is just to help fill in a form, the adviser must issue a letter confirming that his or her services as an adviser have been formally engaged. Services previously agreed informally and orally will have to be recorded.
Ukcosa is also concerned about compulsory formal supervision of advisers by managers. Ukcosa said that this was "wholly impracticable" for many education institutions where immigration advice is incidental to the main purpose of the organisation and where there may be only one adviser with sufficient expertise on site.
The code may also inhibit free and frank advice, to the detriment of the student, said Mr Saville. "It is designed for the minority of unscrupulous firms giving advice for profit," said Mr Saville. "Universities have been shown to be law-abiding and professional, but this will make advisers worried that they may get into trouble and they will be hyper-cautious."
Student advice services, operating from student unions, usually with very few resources and often with just one part-time adviser, will typically help overseas students with pre-arrival information to help them obtain visas.
Services to students when they are in the UK range from helping them apply for visa extensions to offering legal advice, in rare cases, to asylum claims.