College stung in visa scam

August 13, 1999

Melton Mowbray College helped an under-qualified overseas student to circumvent immigration requirements and secure entry to the United Kingdom, it emerged this week.

The revelation comes just weeks after The THES reported that the Leicestershire college is one of several targeted by bogus students, attracted by the UK's lax college entry requirements.

In documents obtained by The THES, a prospective student from Sri Lanka complains that the college's entry requirement of a basic English language qualification, as stipulated in documentation he has received, will cause him problems obtaining a visa.

The college's head of client services, Chris Eveling, agreed to send the student an amended version of the document with references to this requirement removed to help him obtain a visa, the documents show.

Mr Eveling had originally faxed the student making clear that the college requires a British Council International English Language Testing System (IELTS) grade of at least 4.5 out of nine, or evidence of equivalent basic language competence.

The student replied: "I have not got this qualification that's why I can't apply your fax to the visa officer. Because of that please send me a fax ... without mentioned about IELTS passes as soon as possible I have to go to the embassy ... I would like to arrive UK end to September 1998 (sic)."

Mr Eveling agreed to the student's request. Added to the students' letter is a note signed by Mr Eveling to his personal assistant, instructing her to "fax him a revised letter with the IELTS phrase removed".

Documents from the British High Commission in Sri Lanka show that this student was granted a visa. A Foreign Office spokesman said this week that before being granted a visa potential students usually need a confirmed offer of acceptance to a course and to show that they have the relevant entry requirements and the ability to complete the intended course.

The college this week denied collusion. It is investigating the incident and a spokeswoman said: "We are in a position to deny that any action was taken with the intention of scoring illegitimate visa clearance for entry into the UK." She said the college always reported students who failed to enrol on courses.

The incident, which took place last year, occurred just weeks before Mr Eveling was warned by the British High Commission in Sri Lanka that his college "and others" were being actively targeted by bogus students who were bending immigration rules.

"You offer low-level courses to people with low qualifications and poor English," said High Commission entry clearance officer Rob Ostler. "These people fit the exact profile of the likely immigrant. You should not be surprised to find that if you accept people who have shown no great aptitude in studies in Sri Lanka, they will possibly have little commitment to studies in the UK."

Mr Ostler went on to list 13 potential Melton Mowbray College Sri Lankan students, four of whom had their visas refused on the grounds that they had either very poor prior qualifications or no evidence of funding.

Among those who were given visas, one student is described as "hardly credible".

A further letter from Mr Ostler to Mr Eveling refers to one Melton Mowbray student who disappeared after obtaining a visa, and to another who secured a visa "by deception", who was due to enrol on a Melton Mowbray course. The High Commission also warned that "human smugglers" were targeting colleges, providing false qualifications and financial documents to bogus students for about Pounds 2,000.

Earlier this year Mr Masters said there had been problems with overseas students disappearing but Melton's small size and high level of pastoral care ensured that it was less likely and students were more traceable.

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