Student visa system criticised by NAO

The National Audit Office has called for tougher action against overseas students who are breaking visa rules, prompting Universities UK to warn that “legitimate concerns about immigration” should not be allowed to cause “irreversible damage” to the nation’s higher education export industry.

March 27, 2012

The NAO today published a report on the 2009 implementation – under the Labour government – of the Tier 4 points-based immigration system for students from countries outside the European Economic Area.

The NAO said the UK Border Agency “implemented Tier 4 before the key controls were in place”.

“Based on college enrolment rates and changes in application patterns, the NAO estimates that, in its first year of operation, between 40,000 and 50,000 individuals may have entered the UK via Tier 4 to work rather than to study,” the report states.

The NAO also said that the UKBA “currently does little to ensure that people leave the UK when their visa extension requests have been refused”.

The NAO said it employed a specialist contractor to try to locate 812 people the UKBA was looking for in Tier 4 cases, and found addresses for a quarter of them in one week.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “Action planned by the Agency [UKBA] to ensure that those with no right to remain in the UK are identified and required to leave must now be pursued more vigorously.”

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of UUK, said the NAO report covered the first year after implementation of Tier 4 and “good progress” had been made since, including on rules determining who can act as a visa sponsor.

“It is important to note that much of the apparent abuse of the student visa route cited by the NAO does not relate to university-level students,” Ms Dandridge said.

She added: “We must continue to be sensitive to the language we use around immigration and international students.

“We must ensure that legitimate concerns about immigration do not end up causing irreversible damage to a profoundly successful British export.”

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