Leave your machete at home and other safety tips

Conference debates how best to advise overseas students on avoiding trouble. John Morgan reports

July 22, 2010

For the majority of international students, life in the UK is peaceful and safe. But occasionally an overseas student is sucked into a gambling racket or, as in one case, lands in jail for running a fish and chip shop as a front to launder money.

Overseas students as both victims and perpetrators of crime were among subjects discussed in a British Council session on international student safety at the UK Council for International Students (UKCISA) conference in York last week.

The council presented the results of its Creating Confidence survey, which found that of the 3,000 international students who responded, 9 per cent had been a victim of crime during their time in the UK. That was down from 14 per cent in the survey of three years ago.

While 61 per cent of crimes committed against international students were theft or attempted theft, the session heard about some more unusual offences.

Helen Clews, of the British Council, said a police force in the North East believes that Chinese students are "being targeted by other Chinese residents or students, encouraging them to gamble their money away - their funds and living costs. They think it is a massive problem for international students at the moment."

Another potential problem international students face is falling victim to identity fraudsters, as they frequently move addresses and forget to have bank statements sent on.

The audience of university international officers discussed the requirement for some overseas students to register with the police in the UK, which is seen as offensive by many students.

Nationals from 42 countries, including China and Brazil, must provide their address and a copy of their passport to police on arrival - for which they must pay £34.

The session also discussed international students as perpetrators of crime. One participant said that some Chinese students, unfamiliar with UK laws, had become involved in cigarette smuggling.

Another said that her university had seen one of its international students jailed for setting up a fish and chip shop that turned out to be a money-laundering operation.

Ms Clews advised international officers to sit in on police briefings that aim to help international students adjust to UK society and laws.

The session heard about some helpful advice offered by one police officer to an international student: "You can't carry that machete with you to college."


The independent chief inspector of the UK Border Agency has described how he became "tetchy" when it failed to learn from mistakes on visa processing, a key issue for universities and international students.

John Vine told the UKCISA conference that he became frustrated when mistakes identified at the UKBA's post in Abuja, Nigeria, were again found at its Kuala Lumpur post.

Some of the decision-making on visa refusals in the Malaysian capital was "unacceptable", he said, and some customer service "poor".

One questioner from the audience asked whether delays in the processing of UK identity cards for international students, a requirement of the visa application process, fell within Mr Vine's remit.

He said ineffective issuing of cards was within his remit, but drew sardonic laughter from the audience when he said it had "not come to my attention before as an issue".


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