UK cracks down on fraudulent English tests for overseas student visas

by Ray Clancy on June 25, 2014

The UK has revealed that it has been conducting a wide ranging investigation against highly organised gangs of criminals who have been falsifying English language tests for foreign student visa applications.

According to Immigration Minister James Brokenshire, some 48,000 students abused the system so that they could get a visa and stay in the UK.

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48,000 students have abused the system to obtain a UK student visa

‘We need to remain vigilant against abuse of the student visa system, and education providers need to meet their responsibilities,’ said Brokenshire. He added that officials have also investigated a number of colleges and universities for their failure to make sure that the foreign students they have sponsored meet the standards set out in the immigration rules.

Since reforms introduced in 2011, it has been a requirement for all student visa applicants to prove they can speak English at an appropriate level. All students in further dducation or at a university which relies on English Language Testing who want to extend their stay with a new student visa must be tested by one of five companies licensed by the government.

One of those companies, the European subsidiary of an American firm called Educational Testing Services, was exposed by the BBC’s Panorama programme earlier this year following systematic cheating at a number of their UK test centres.

‘Facilitated by organised criminals, this typically involved invigilators supplying, even reading out, answers to whole exam rooms or gangs of impostors being allowed to step into the exam candidates’ places to sit the test. Evidently this could only happen with considerable collusion by the test centres concerned,’ explained Brokenshire.

Having been provided with analysis from the American arm of ETS for a number of ETS test centres in the UK that operated in 2012 and 2013, they have identified more than 29,000 invalid results and more than 19,000 questionable results.

Since they still have to receive test analyses from ETS for their other UK testing centres, it is likely that the true totals will be higher, Brokenshire warned.

But he said that officials from Immigration Enforcement and UK Visas and Immigration have not found evidence to suggest there is systematic cheating taking place in the tests carried out by the other providers.

ETS testing has been suspended and all immigration applications from those in the UK using an ETS test certificate have been put on hold. ETS has also been formally removed as a test provider.

‘Because of the organised criminality that lies behind the falsified tests, the National Crime Agency has been brought in to work alongside Immigration Enforcement officers to pursue criminal action against the perpetrators,’ said Brokenshire.

‘Immigration Enforcement has begun work to identify anybody who is in the country illegally as a result of the falsified tests so they can be removed. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are also helping the investigation by scrutinising pay and tax records,’ he explained.

‘A criminal investigation has been launched into the role of ETS Global Ltd. More generally, Immigration Enforcement is working to identify, pursue, and prosecute those involved in facilitating this activity, and to investigate links to wider organised crime. Arrests have been made and I expect more will follow,’ he added.

HMRC identified a number of overseas university students earning more than £20,000 a year, despite the rule that they must not work more than 20 hours per week during term time.

Overseas students at privately funded further education colleges are not allowed to work at all, yet one college, the London School of Business and Finance, has 290 foreign students who worked and paid tax last year. One university student identified by HMRC had been working a 60 hour week for six months.

At certain private Further Education colleges, as many as three quarters of the file checks completed by UKVI officers were a cause for concern. At one college, a staff member told UKVI officers that they were not encouraged to report students’ absence or failure because doing so would reduce the college’s income and jeopardise its right to sponsor foreign students.

The Home Office has suspended the highly trusted sponsor status, that is; the right to sponsor foreign students, for Glyndwr University and suspended the licences of 57 private further education colleges. Another two universities, the University of Bedfordshire and the University of West London, have been told they are no longer allowed to sponsor new students pending further investigations which will decide whether they too will be suspended.

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