Category Archives: UK Immigration News 2010

33 Years Prison for Thames College London Fraudsters

Five people operating a bogus college and corrupt immigration advice firm were sentenced to 33 and a half years total detention, having been found guilty for conspiring to assist unlawful immigration and money-laundering offences.

Following an investigation by the UKBA immigration crime team, Syed Ahmed – a former barrister – was on trial for three weeks, where he was cleared on the money laundering charges but found guilty of conspiring to assist unlawful immigration. He was sentenced to eight and a half years.

Ahmed’s wife – Junjie Kao – was also involved, as well as another Chinese national, Wie Xing. Along with two Bangladeshi nationals – Khaled Mahmud and Tareq Mahmud – were given a total of 25 years by the judge.

Thames College London was nothing but a front, claiming to have sufficient premises to provide the courses they offered, but having none. Khaled Mahmud and Tareq Mahmud were responsible for running the college while Ahmed “worked” as a lecturer.

Operating a corrupt immigration company – Virgil Legal Services Ltd – the conspirators used Thames College London to issue entirely fake visa letters and other fraudulent documents,  which were used to secure UK student visas.

The scam paid twice for the conspirators, as they used their own corrupt immigration company – Virgil Legal Services Ltd – to process the visa applications for “students” of Thames College London. Upon serving a warrant, the UKBA team found £2.65 million in cash under a bed in a south-east London flat. Who knows how much more money has already left the college over the lifetime of the scam.

Commenting on the case, Hugh Ind, Director UKBA London and South East, said, “…this case shows, illegal immigration can be big business. This investigation and conviction demonstrates our determination to tackle those who commit organised immigration crime and bring the perpetrators to justice. We will continue to work with the police and other law enforcement partners to identify criminal activity and stamp out any abuses of the system.”

Head of the UKBA crime team, Detective Superintendent Chris Foster, added, “…the UK Border Agency and police continue to work in partnership to identify, dismantle and disrupt criminal networks who are involved in or benefiting from immigration crime. This was an extremely complex investigation that involved many thousands of pages of documentary evidence seized from a bogus college and a corrupt law firm.  The amount of cash seized from here highlights the attraction that immigration crime has for criminal gangs. A financial asset stripping investigation is ongoing.”

Highly Skilled Migrants must do Highly Skilled Work

Following recent publication of a report into Tier 1 visas during the interim UK immigration cap, Damian Green – the UK Immigration Minister – said, “Those coming into the UK under the highly skilled migrant route should only be able to do highly skilled jobs – it should not be used as a means to enter the low-skilled jobs market.”

The study showed that of all the Tier 1 visas issued from the start of the interim cap:

  • 29% had unskilled jobs
  • 25% had skilled jobs
  • 46% did not disclose their status

The study was quite tough, defining unskilled work as anything with an annual salary less than £25,000. Skilled work therefore, was defined as a job paying more than £25,000 per year.

Tier 1 of the Points Based System has quite strict criteria regarding education, skills and experience, however unlike Tier 2, a job offer is not required to be in place for the visa to be issued. It is this practice that Damian Green seems particularly focused on.

Tier 1 and 2 Visa Cap Could be Relaxed

David Cameron suggested that the four month old cap on highly skilled workers could well be relaxed, following concerns in the business community.

The Prime Minister said at a recent London conference: “As we control our borders and bring immigration to a manageable level, we will not impede you from attracting the best talent from around the world.”

Introduced in July 2010, the cap on the number of Tier 1 and Tier 2 UK visas issued to highly skilled workers has so far been used to measure opinion from those affected by the tougher immigration rules. Many UK companies have been lobbying government citing the cap as harmful to the economy and to the UK’s research and development excellence. This interim cap is to be replaced in April 2011 with a permanent cap on Tier 1 and 2 visas.

There has not just been a cap on the number of Tier 2 visas issued, but also on the number of sponsor licences issued to employers by the UKBA.

The interim limits in place do not apply to either applications made within the UK or extension applications; the cap applies to fresh out-country applications only.

Criticism of the tightening of the immigration rules has come from a range of sectors within the business community; from cancer charities to legal services and oil companies, all feel that the cap would seriously hamper their business capabilities. The financial services sector too, as one would expect, have been particularly fierce in their lobbying, seeking more flexibility for the permanent UK immigration cap due in spring. This is a view shared too by Vince Cable, UK Business Secretary and part of the UK coalition Government; rumours are that sparks have been flying internally over the issue of the immigration cap.

With the final details of the permanent immigration cap announced just before Christmas, there is certain to be a lot more jostling over this issue; both internally in Government and from externally from influential business leaders. With the proposed permanent immigration cap to be below 100,000 non-EU migrants, people are right to have serious concerns.

UK Immigration Minister Misrepresents Government’s own Report into Migration

Despite what Damian Green announced publicly last month, and contrary to popular media belief, student migrants to the UK are not here to overstay. In fact, they are the most likely of all migrants entering the UK to return home at the end of their visa.

The research – carried out by the Home Office – was published in a report called “The Migrant Journey”. Written to inform the UK’s Coalition Government on the state of immigration, it was heavily cited by Damian Green in his speech. However, his interpretation of the report leaves much to be desired.

Tony Millns, English UK Chief Executive and staunch opponent of successive governments’ heavy-handed approach to international students, commented: “In fact, the report shows that the vast majority of students are returning home, in contrast to people coming to the UK for family or work reasons.”

The report shows that:

  • Of those coming to the UK under the Family route, as a relative of a British citizen, 63 per cent were still in the UK after five years, and 55 had gained settlement rights
  • Of those coming on the Work (leading to citizenship) route, 40 per cent were still here after five years, and almost 75 per cent gained the right to settle
  • Of those coming for Study, only 21 per cent remained in the UK after five years, with just three per cent gaining settlement rights.
  • The report says nearly 3 out of 5 students had left the UK after only two years. Those who remained had validly extended their stay, either as students on longer courses, or as highly-skilled or shortage occupation workers, or had married a Briton.

It concludes: “the largest proportion of those granted settlement in 2009 had entered the UK via the work (leading to citizenship) route and the family route.”

The report goes on to directly challenge the assertion that the majority of migrants remain in the UK beyond their visa expiry date: “… a smaller number of migrants stay permanently in the UK than is commonly thought,” and “… it seems plausible that the vast majority of migrants granted non-visit visas in 2004…have probably left the UK.”

Commenting on the report, Tony Millns said, “There has been a complete misinterpretation of what this report actually shows. Misleading attacks on international students risk seriously damaging what is an export success story for the UK. International students bring over £10bn in foreign earnings to the UK each year, and thousands of UK jobs depend on them, not just in colleges but in local businesses from tourist attractions to taxi firms. Students are not in fact migrants, and international students contribute hugely to the UK.”

LSBF says, “UKBA announces major immigration rules changes for ACCA students coming to study in the UK”

I don’t really know how true is this, as I have not been able to come across any such rule on UKBA Website, though we are all aware that IELTS is a must thing for applying for student visa or even for student’s dependent visa now.

However, following is the email I received from LSBF as I had earlier expressed some interest in pursuing ACCA from LSBF:

“As you have expressed interest in studying ACCA with LSBF?s Compete 1st Class tuition offer, we wanted to share with you some important changes to the UK immigration rules affecting all students coming to study in the UK after 12 August 2010.

The changes to the Immigration Rules will require all students wishing to come to the UK for ACCA studies with a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies issued on or after 12 August 2010 to have passed a Secure English Language Test approved by the UKBA.

We are aware that some of our students in many regions of the world have difficulty in booking an appointment to sit a test like the IELTS due to shortage of appointments and therefore we strongly recommend all interested students complete their application no later than Wednesday 11 August 2010.

Students who complete their application with LSBF on or before 11 August 2010 will be issued with a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) which will enable you to apply for a Tier 4 student visa without the need to sit and pass a Secure English Language Test.

Secure English Language Tests

On Thursday 12 August 2010 the UK Border Agency will implement the English language testing requirements for Tier 4 (General) students, full details can be found on the UK Border Agency website. A summary of the changes can be found below.

Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) issued on or after 12 August 2010

If a Tier 4 (General) student is coming to study in the United Kingdom, using a CAS issued on or after 12 August 2010 and they are coming to study a course that is below NQF Level 6 (except for students on Foundation Degrees and those studying an English language course) ? this includes all ACCA courses – their Tier 4 sponsor must ensure that the student is competent in English language at a minimum of level B1 on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) by showing they:

• are from a majority English-speaking country. Further details are available at
http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/studyingintheuk/adult-students/can-you-apply/; or

• have successfully completed a course as a Tier 4 (Child) student (or under the student rules that were in force before 31 March 2009, where the student was granted permission to stay whilst he/she was under 18 years old) which was:

• at least six months in length; or
• ended within two years of the date the sponsor assigned the CAS; or
• have passed an English language test with an approved test provider for Tier 4, and has achieved at least CEFR level B1 in all four components (reading, writing, speaking and listening). Details of approved test providers can be found on our website at:
http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/studyingintheuk/adult-students/evidence/visa-letter/

This post was submitted by D L S.

Damian Green’s Statement of Changes to the Immigration Points Based System

The Minister of State for Immigration (Damian Green): The Immigration Rules specify that the detail of how certain requirements will be applied will be set out in UK Border Agency guidance rather than in the Immigration Rules themselves. This is essential best practice as it enables the UK Border Agency to have the flexibility it needs to make minor changes whilst staying within the framework set out in the Immigration Rules.

However, on two particular points successful legal challenges have been brought to the extent to which requirements must be set out in the Immigration Rules rather than UK Border Agency guidance. The first is the minimum levels of courses that may be studied under Tier 4 (General). The second is the periods of time that applicants must have held available funds for.

In light of the court judgements I am bringing the detail of these requirements within the Immigration Rules. The requirements themselves are not changing, although in the case of English language courses, I am using this as an opportunity to re-introduce the minimum level for such courses which was in place before the judgement was handed down. By doing this, if the requirements do change in future, those changes will need to be laid before Parliament.

I am also making a further change to the Tier 4 (General) category today to make it a requirement for some students studying below degree level to provide evidence of having passed a UK Border Agency –approved secure English language test at a minimum of B1 level on the Common European Framework of Reference for languages. This change builds on the previous position where the sponsors of such students were required to make their own assessment of the English language level of the student. The use of an independent test is an advance on this as it should help ensure that sponsors are not duped by students offering false or fake documents to prove their English language ability.

It is right that under the points based system, all students now need to apply to the UK Border Agency to vary their leave before being able to change institutions. This is essential so that the UK Border Agency can maintain accurate records of where migrants are studying and check that the institutions to which they wish to move are bona fide and are willing to take on the sponsorship of their new students under Tier 4. Consequently, Tier 4 students are unable to start studying at their new sponsor institution until they have received a positive decision on their
application.

The principle of sponsorship – whereby those who benefit most directly from the contributions migrants make to the United Kingdom (employers and education institutions) are expected to play their part in ensuring the UK’s migration system is not abused – is an integral part of the Points Based System. The new Highly Trusted sponsor licence introduced for Tier 4 sponsors on 6 April 2010 provides a further segmentation of the existing sponsor rating system designed to identify those sponsors who are achieving the highest levels of compliance with their sponsor obligations and whose students are showing the greatest compliance with the terms of their visa or leave. Those holding a Highly Trusted sponsor licence are granted additional freedoms and offered new services to recognise their previous track record of good compliance.

In recognition of the high levels of student compliance among Highly Trusted sponsors; I have agreed an additional freedom for their students which is being introduced by the change to the Immigration Rules for Tier 4 (General) and Tier 4 (Child) students today. The change will allow the students of Highly Trusted sponsors to commence their studies with them before receipt of UKBA’s decision on their application.

In addition, for the avoidance of doubt, I am also making changes today to our general grounds for refusing applicants, (for example on the basis of submitting false documents), to make it absolutely clear that these provisions also apply to applicants who have overstayed their previous permission to be here.

Because of the urgent nature of some of these changes, it has not been possible in respect of some of them to follow the usual convention of laying them before the House for 21 days before they come into force. I regret that this has not been possible in this instance. The changes permitting students to change sponsors where their new sponsor is a Highly Trusted Sponsor and those made following successful legal challenges will come into force tomorrow, on 23 July

Border Agency again raises Minimum English level in spite of High Court Ruling

English UK are understandably “very disappointed” at the UK Border Agencies decision to raise the minimum English level back to B1 for all Tier 4 (General) student visa applicants.

Announced 22 July 2010 and effective from 23 July, all students studying a course below degree level – including English language courses – will have to demonstrate that they are proficient in English near A Level standard or B1 on the CEFR framework. English UK Chief Executive Tony Millns stands by his description of the situation as, “clearly absurd.”

Originally introduced by the previous Labour Government on 3 March 2010, this was overturned by Mr Justice Foskett, a UK High Court Judge, who ordered the UK Border Agency to return the minimum level to A1, allowing English language learners of a basic level to study in the UK.

“We’re very disappointed that the Border Agency has made this change without us having had the chance to meet the new Immigration Minister, Damian Green, and make our case with him,” said Mr Millns.

“A group of MPs who represent constituencies with high concentrations of language schools and myself are due to meet Mr Green on Monday. They are very concerned about the effect of this ruling on the local economy of their constituencies. When Mr Green was in opposition, he too was very supportive of our position and the detrimental effect this rule has on genuine students.”

High Profile Clampdown on Sham Weddings and Bogus Colleges, plus Radical Changes to the UKBA

Damien Green, the UK Immigration minister has drawn the battle lines against those who think the UK is soft touch. He said the Government was determined to send a clear message to those with no right to come to the UK.

The immigration minister is facing heavy criticism over his policy to return Iraqi nationals on charter flights and for paying asylum seekers in Calais waiting to enter the UK illegally £4,000 not to do so.

At the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee Mr Green said, “Britain has been seen as something of a soft touch. One of the drivers of the new Government’s immigration policy is to send a message around the world that Britain is no longer a soft touch.”

He added: “We are going to do a lot of enforcement over the next few months on sham marriages, bogus colleges, illegal work. I think it’s very important that we not only clamp down on all that but clamp down very publicly. It’s all part of sending a message.”

The Immigration minister was also adamant about forging ahead with his controversial policies on Iraqi detainees. He told MPs, “I am absolutely unrepentant about returning people who have no right to be in this country to Iraq.”

He also confirmed that he would continue the Labour government’s policy of offering cash to immigrants wanting to smuggle themselves into the UK through Calais.

“It looks unpalatable but it is the least worst option,” he said. “That’s much better for the taxpayer.”

Of the UK Border Agency, Mr Green promised radical reform: “My feeling is that it’s better than it was but there’s an awful long way to go. We are looking at potentially radical changes to make it more efficient.”

UKBA to Introduce Secure English Language tests in August

Some students applying under the Tier 4 (General) category of the points based system will be required to undergo secure English language testing from 12 August 2010.

Any student who will be studying a course in the UK below level 6 of the National Qualifications Framework will be subject to the test. Students’ sponsors will be required to ensure that applicants are competent in the English language at a minimum level of B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). Students can demonstrate this to their sponsors in the following ways:

– Be from a majority English-speaking country; or
– Have completed a course as a child student in the UK lasting at least six months or ending no more than two years before an adult CAS would be assigned;
– Have achieved an English language qualification at CEFR level B1 or above from an approved test provider. Students must achieve a minimum of B1 in all the modules: reading, writing, speaking and listening.

Students studying Foundation Degrees or English language courses will not be affected by this change.

Approved English Test Providers and Minimum Scores Required

TOEFL: Minimum B1 required

Listening – 13
Reading – 8
Writing – 17
Speaking – 19

PTE Academic: Minimum B1 required

Listening – 43
Reading – 43
Writing – 43
Speaking – 43

IELTS: Minimum B1 required

Listening – 4.0
Reading – 4.0
Writing – 4.0
Speaking – 4.0

ILEC and ICFE: Minimum B2 required

Listening – Weak
Reading – Weak
Writing – Weak
Speaking – Weak

CPE: Minimum C2 required

Listening – Weak
Reading – Weak
Writing – Weak
Speaking – Weak

CAE: Minimum C1 required

Listening – Weak
Reading – Weak
Writing – Weak
Speaking – Weak

BEC Vantage: Minimum B2 required

Listening – Weak
Reading – Weak
Writing – Weak
Speaking – Weak

BEC Higher: Minimum C1 required

Listening – Weak
Reading – Weak
Writing – Weak
Speaking – Weak

BEC Preliminary: Minimum B1 required

Listening – Weak
Reading – Weak
Writing – Weak
Speaking – Weak

FCE: Minimum B2 required

Listening – Weak
Reading – Weak
Writing – Weak
Speaking – Weak

PET: Minimum B1 required

Listening – Borderline
Reading – Borderline
Writing – Borderline
Speaking – Borderline

Students should note that the TOEIC testing system has been removed from the list of approved tests. From 12 August 2010 you will no longer be able to use a TOEIC test result to get a CAS from your sponsor and apply for a Tier 4 (General) Student visa.

Threat from bogus Students low despite what the Headlines Suggest

Recent research by a well respect company – Ernst & Young – shows that fears of bogus students – often caused by outrageous headlines – are unfounded and the risk of fraudulent international students is in fact low.

In major student destinations across the world, headlines whip up frenzy about the threat we face from bogus and fraudulent international students. The US, UK and Australia are popular study destinations and it is no surprise that the media has caused blind fear amongst their populations, with over 3 million students arriving in these countries each year.

It is a given that all parts of the international student recruitment chain must take steps to protect both national security and the reputation of each country’s education industry. All three countries share similar process for the detection and prevention of visa fraud. The US rejected more than a third of the total 490,000 applications processed and the UK a similar proportion of the 350,000 total applications. Yet Australia is the only country taking transparency of the visa process seriously, publishing detailed analysis of why students are refused visas. Given the similarities of the systems and processes in place, this data has provided good information on the scale and impact of supposed student visa fraud.

Evidence from Australia is clear: student visa fraud is limited and the processes and checks in place are fit for purpose. Of the 280,000 student visas issued for Australia in 2008, less than 0.5% of students had their visas cancelled for meeting their obligations as students, such as failing to attend classes regularly.

The Ernst & Young report, commissioned by DIAC – the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Citizenship – looked at 15 areas of risk, from document fraud committed by students, to collusion by sponsors and agents.

The report found only one risk category to be “significant” but was deemed so rare to be of little to no significance; fraudulent military service records.

Every other category of risk was found to be moderate or low risk and the report writers stated that, “…the visa issuing programme is operating in a risk environment with a moderate overall fraud risk profile”.

A report such as this would not be free of recommendations however, yet Ernst & Young could only suggest non-urgent areas on which to focus attention. They concluded that steps should be taken to improve Entry Clearance Officers’ abilities to assess English language qualifications and financial records. The report did highlight the role of education consultancies that are key in placing students on courses. Australia had already taken steps to build a network of trusted agents, who are given priority visa processing access.

DIAC commented on the report: “We are concerned about education agents engaging in fraudulent practices. In 2009 the minister announced enhanced integrity measures, including upgrading the interview programme in case loads that were identified as high risk to build up evidence of fraud and removing access to eVisa to some agents where there is evidence of fraud.”

Australia has a more country-specific approach to scrutinising visa applications, which the UK would do well to implement. Applicants from India, Mauritius, Nepal, Brazil, Zimbabwe and Pakistan face greater scrutiny when applying for an Australian study visa. In China, things are taken a little bit further, where only government registered agencies can place students on courses in Australia. You’d worry this could stifle business, but Chinese students accounted for 18% of Australia’s total international student population in 2008.

Agents place one in five international students on courses in the UK and the government is committed to improving the quality of agents. The British Council has been active in bringing together representatives to better co-ordinate policies in the main countries offering English language courses.

This will not be possible however, without greater transparency from immigration authorities. Whilst DIAC seems to have a relatively open approach, the Ernst & Young warned that data gathering methods relating to visa fraud could be improved.

But by far the most important lesson to learn from the DIAC approach is that fraudsters move with the times and are quick to target new areas of potential weakness once other avenues are closed. In 2008, 53% of visa refusals were for applicants applying to universities. In 2009, this fell to 39% and colleges appeared to be under greater attack, with 50% of applications rejected for fraud.