A Home Office suggestion that about 300 international students at a private college have been working in contravention of their visas was based on a misunderstanding of their right to work, the institution has said.
In a statement to the House of Commons on Tuesday, immigration minister James Brokenshire said that although overseas students at private colleges are not allowed to work, the London School of Business and Finance “has 290 foreign students who worked and paid tax last year”.
LSBF was one of 57 private colleges to have its licence to sponsor international students suspended following an investigation by the Home Office into compliance with student visa rules.
In a response issued on June, LSBF said that UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) had contacted them on 24 June and claimed that government records showed that “over 213 students” appeared to have been working in contravention of their visas, with UKVI stating that “since none of your (LSBF) students would have an entitlement to work, this statistic is extremely worrying”.
However, according to LSBF, an internal analysis of the files of the 213 students suggests that 198 currently hold a valid visa permitting them to work, or did have such a visa while in employment; 13 had their studies terminated by LSBF, and are not believed to have worked prior to this; and two were never LSBF students in the first place.
The college also said it did not recognise the figure of 290 students quoted by Mr Brokenshire as one that was used by UKVI in its correspondence with LSBF.
LSBF added that contrary to the government’s assertion, many of the institution’s students were entitled to work.
This was because they included students directly sponsored by UK universities but studying with LSBF under franchise arrangements, or had enrolled before the introduction of current employment restrictions for international students, it said.
LSBF has invited former University of the West of England vice-chancellor Alfred Morris to oversee an internal investigation into the UKVI claim, with the findings to be audited by accountancy firm PwC.
“LSBF shares the minister for immigration’s concern to address issues arising from abuse of visa regulations by a minority of colleges and students and has given public support to past immigration reforms,” the LSBF statement said. “However, in the interest of its students and staff, LSBF has asked that the minister now clarify the part of his statement which referred to LSBF.”
A Home Office spokeswoman did not comment on LSBF’s figures but said it had found “extensive evidence of widespread cheating on English language tests by those studying” at the institution.
“We have suspended their licence because of numerous, broader failings in respect of their sponsorship duties,” she added.
“This government will always take decisive action to prevent people from cheating their way into Britain. We have already cut abuse across the board through policies designed to build an immigration system that is fair to British citizens and legitimate migrants and tough on those who abuse the system or flout the law.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Glyndwr University, which had its licence to sponsor overseas students suspended following Mr Brokenshire’s statement, said that a “task force made up of senior staff” had been put in place to explore and implement solutions to the issues raised by UKVI.
“The university’s first priority is to meet its obligations as a highly trusted sponsor in order to ensure that our international students are not adversely affected by this situation. We are committed to addressing any concerns raised by the Home Office and eliminating any abuse of the student visa route,” he said.