BBC undercover footage exposes student visa system fraud

BBC’s Panorama has uncovered “blatant” and “systematic” fraud in the UK student visa system which each year offers approximately 100,000 non-EU students visas. The investigation discovered flagrant cheating in the compulsory English tests necessary for gaining a visa to the UK.

The Home Secretary Theresa May commented that: “what panorama has discovered is important and shocking and I want to do something about it.”

Following the revelations made by the BBC, the government has suspended two colleges and the ETS (Educational Testing Service), one of the largest English language testing companies in the world that sets and marks the exams, is pending investigation.

The BBC sent foreign students living the UK legally undercover feigning to be bogus students looking to live and work in the UK illegally. They were told by the immigration consultancy Studentway Education that there were ways to get around the compulsory English tests even if the candidate could not speak any English.

It was discovered that for £500 candidates could be “guaranteed” a pass in the English test. Footage showed how one candidate, an undercover journalist, was replaced by a “fake sitter”, who was clearly a native English speaker, to take the English speaking examination for them.

The following week the undercover applicant sat a multiple-choice exam where the invigilator read out the correct answers to all 200 questions. The two hour test was completed in a mere seven minutes. Later it is revealed that the candidate achieved 100 per cent on these government approved tests.

These tests were taken in Eden College International, London, and although the college denies knowledge of these fraudulent activities, they do admit that they had previously investigated the behaviours of several freelance invigilators.

examfraud2Consultants were even shown offering candidates, for a large fee, fake bank statements and documents necessary to prove they had enough money to support themselves in the UK without working.

They suggested they would do this by stealing the bank details of someone with the same name; patent identity fraud. The undercover candidate was later given a false bank statement showing she had thousands of pounds in her bank.

ETS claims that it “does everything it can to detect and prevent rare instances of dishonest test administrators or test takers” but that the company is not responsible for the appointment of test administrators.

Though the English language tests were introduced to deter fraudulent students from entering the UK to work, there have been calls for tighter restrictions as it was revealed last year that there may be up to 900,000 foreign students living illegally in the UK. However some Liberal Democrats oppose such restrictions for fear that they will deter genuine students wishing to enter the UK legally.

Mrs May maintains that “…reforms have curbed abuse by closing bogus colleges, making the application process more rigorous and imposing more rules on colleges to improve course quality.” But added that: “…as Panorama has highlighted, much more needs to be done.”

The Home Secretary added that such fraudsters are continually changing their tactics to illegally enter the UK and exploit the system; therefore the government must adapt quickly in order to clamp down on them.

However Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said that: ‘This investigation shows Theresa May is presiding over a failing immigration system which too often focuses on the wrong thing and where illegal immigration is a growing problem.”

What is clear is that the investigation has cast doubt over the credibility of the visa application process and highlighted the need for tighter government regulation of English language examinations. Mrs May said she calls on the education sector to do more to tackle such fraud.

All English language tests carried out through ETS have been postponed.

Olivia Thomas