Concern at proposed passport checks by landlords

Home Office bid would set huge hurdles for overseas students seeking private rentals, warns UKCISA

August 22, 2013

Overseas students could find it “difficult if not impossible” to find private accommodation in the UK as a result of proposed immigration rules for landlords.

The government is consulting on plans to force landlords to check that prospective tenants have the right to be in the UK by inspecting documents such as a passport or biometric residence permit.

But because the majority of overseas students organise their accommodation before arriving in the country, checking their immigration status using original documents beforehand would be “difficult if not impossible”, said the UK Council for International Student Affairs.

Additionally, many students try to secure a place to live before their visas are confirmed, something that would be “impossible and illegal under the proposals”, it warns in an internal briefing document prepared before a sector-wide meeting on the issue earlier this month.

Another problem is that international students frequently have to renew their visas, UKCISA claims, which involves leaving their passports with the Home Office for up to three months at a time. During this period they would not be able to prove to a prospective landlord that they were in the UK legally, it states.

A Home Office summary of the changes proposes that landlords could use an enquiry service to verify a tenant’s immigration status if they had “unclear” documents.

“General telephone enquiries should obtain immediate advice,” it proposes, and adds that an existing scheme for employers responds by email within about six days.

But UKCISA warned that because tenancy decisions had to be made “very rapidly, in days if not hours”, the system would work only if confirmations were available “immediately”. Landlords could become cautious about renting property “to anyone who might appear to be in any way ‘foreign’ and need their immigration status checked with particular care”, it added.

The Home Office summary says that landlords making checks should not make assumptions about a person’s immigration status based on their “ethnicity, name, accent, etc”.

UKCISA’s comments are only the latest expressions of concern in the sector over the impact of the government’s tougher immigration regime for international students.

Proposals now being considered that would affect overseas students include a £200-plus annual health levy to cover the cost of migrants using the NHS, and the introduction of a cash “bond” to prevent people overstaying their visas.

However, last month a government industrial strategy said it was “realistic” for the international student cohort to grow by 15 to 20 per cent over the next five years.

Daniel Stevens, international students’ officer at the National Union of Students, said the proposals would be “disheartening” for international students and would treat them like “potential criminals”.

A Home Office spokeswoman said the landlord proposal would form part of the Immigration Bill, and “make it harder for people to stay and live in the UK illegally by preventing them from renting property”. She said the government was keen to hear from stakeholders.

“We have already met with a number of student organisations and universities including the UK Council for International Student Affairs, who we’ve encouraged to respond formally to the consultation.”

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