'It was a very difficult experience - we came out feeling like criminals'

October 1, 2004

Nataliya Suchok, 18, from Kiev, Ukraine, applied to study a full-time BTec national diploma in health studies at North West Kent College in June, but her application was refused on July 13.

The officer was not satisfied that Ms Suchok could meet the costs of her course and accommodation without working or using public funds, or that she would leave the UK after finishing her course.

That was despite the fact that the £5,500 course fees had been paid by a family friend, Alec Coutroubis, a senior engineering lecturer at Greenwich University's Chatham campus. He also arranged for Ms Suchok to lodge with his neighbours in Meopham, Kent.

Ms Suchok appealed and decided to submit a fresh application on August 11.

Her sister Svetlana, who completed a nursing degree at Greenwich and now works for Gravesend National Health Service Trust, accompanied her to the second interview.

She said the officer asked questions in a judgemental manner and implied that Ms Suchok would work as a prostitute in the UK.

"It was a very, very difficult experience - we came out feeling like criminals," her sister said.

The second application was rejected on August on the sole grounds that Ms Suchok would not leave Britain at the end of the two-year course, which began on September 3.

Dr Coutroubis has raised the case with Chris Pond, MP for Gravesham, but UKvisas confirmed to him that the decision to reject Ms Suchok's application was correct.

Dr Coutroubis is furious about the decision. He said that Ms Suchok, a talented student, has been left in limbo because appeals take six months to be heard.

He added: "The decision is down to the officer who does the first interview and there is bias - they make value judgements."

Ms Suchok has not decided whether to continue her fight to study in the UK.

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