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Efforts to more efficiently rule out ‘ungenuine’ international student applicants

The month of July brought new developments in the UK, the US and New Zealand for one and the same matter – their fight against bogus international student applicants.

The UK Border Agency announced the toughening of its visa regime for oversees student applicants as of 30 July this year. As an addition to the current selection and visa application procedure, the UKBA announced that, starting this date, it will perform between 10 000 and 14 000 compulsory interview tests over the coming year as a means to better filter our bogus applicants, i.e. those that want to enter the UK with a student visa but without the intention to study or without having the right credentials. It is estimated that about 5% of those coming every year to the UK from outside Europe will be interviewed in this fashion. UKBA will thus gain new powers and will be able to refuse grating visas to students whose credibility remains questionable after the interview round. This announcement came after the results of a pilot scheme recently completed were announced and identified some important gaps in the existing system. 2 300 student visa applicants from 47 countries have been interviewed under this trial by consular officials at 13 posts abroad. The UKBA staff were able to turn down 17% of these applicants on grounds that they lacked basic language skills, and reported they had doubts about the genuineness of another 32%, to whom they would have refused the visas, had they had the power to do so. Most problems were registered with applicants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Burma, Nigeria and the Philippines. The expectation is that applicants from these countries will be the prime target for the forthcoming interviews. Clearly, the new measure makes university and college representatives unhappy, as they fear that it will further discourage good applicants to target the UK as a study destination.

In parallel, in New Zealand, the random check of a sample of student visa applicants has uncovered immigration fraud at the Beijing branch of Immigration New Zealand (INZ). The fraud consists mainly in fake qualifications and fake bank statements, and concerns 279 applicants, 231 of which were already in the country. The fake students were enrolled at 20 higher education providers in the Auckland area. However, the providers had, according to the results of the investigation, nothing to do with the fraud. The latter seems to have been facilitated by two agents in China, but the investigation is ongoing. The fraudulent applicants will be, once identified and located, deported back to China.

Last but not least, a recently released report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in the US points to serious flaws in the procedures used by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to “investigate, identify and combat fraud” in the framework of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which it manages. GAO concludes that ICE has “not done enough to ensure that the 10 000 schools and colleges that enrolled a total of 850 000 foreign students as of January have done so legitimately”. The report points to a number of problems including accreditation and puts forward recommendations, which have already been approved by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).


Times Higher Education

New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment

United States Government Accountability Office