Published on February 12, 2014 | by Matteo Besana


Student visa fraud revealed in BBC documentary

girl reads english grammar book in the library

The government said it had suspended two colleges identified by Panorama [Linwei Li]

International students are increasingly defrauding the UK visa system, a BBC documentary has revealed.

Panorama conducted a one-year undercover investigation that showed how, for a fee up to £500 (three times the normal rate), students with poor English skills were able to pass language tests easily and remain in the country to work illegally.

The programme uncovered the methods of fraud in some centres certified by ETS, one of the largest language test firms in the world, who set the exams but do not appoint the invigilators.

The fraud consists of cheating both tests that the students have to take in order to extend their visas; in the first test, the student had to be at the test centre to have their photograph taken, but a fake sitter would take the test in their place.


In the second test, the students would take the test, but the invigilators would tell all the sitters the correct answers, allowing them to complete a two-hour exam in just seven minutes.

After few days, the students would receive the certificate with a score of 100 per cent in some parts.

The government said it had suspended two colleges identified by the programme and all further English language tests done through ETS in the UK.

Simon Hinde, Course Leader for BA Journalism, said the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is an important part of the admission process.

“We normally just check their IELTS test, whilst the university administration checks their visa status as they are held responsible to ensure that the students are allowed to be here. The government is now requiring all sorts of people from employers, to landlords and universities to check the immigration status of their employees, tenants and students.”

He added: “In a university environment, this can be quite difficult as it puts the university in a policing relationship with the students. At the same time, I don’t think there is any choice as it is a legal requirement.”


Lee Ting Hui, a second year BA Interior Design student from China, told ALN of her personal experience of coming to the UK:

“I came here in 2004 and at the time the situation and the checks were much more relaxed than now. But now I see how the situation has changed. For example, my brother is trying to bring his wife to the UK, but with the immigration policies being so strict right now she has to go through a lot of tests to be able to come here.”

She added: “I can see the advantages in this strict approach because it offers more opportunity to local people and I think before the rules were too relaxed.”

Each year, around 100,000 non-EU students get their visas extended to stay in the UK.

Home Secretary Theresa May said the government was taking action to change the immigration system “which was out of control when we inherited it,” and 700 colleges had already been stopped from bringing students in from outside the EU. 


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