International students face visa suspensions as BBC exposes fraud in testing system

BBC PANORAMA have revealed fraudulent transactions within the student visa system through secret filming which was carried out over an entire year.

8192585257_586a5285be_zThe programme followed a network of agents who were helping international students obtain visa extensions through extortion and deceit. Non-EU students, who were already residing within the UK legally, went undercover posing as students with poor English who wished to remain in the UK with the intention of working illegally.

It was reported that whilst undercover at an immigration consultancy called Studentway Education in Southall, west London, one candidate was ensured a ‘guaranteed pass’ for a fee of £500, around three times the cost of the initial examination fee.

With the Director of the establishment having said: “Someone else will sit the exam for you. But you will have to have your photo taken there to prove you were present.” The candidate, after paying the extortionate fee, sat the exam at a government approved centre, Eden College International in East London, where she was set up on a computer to sit the TOEIC exam, but never actually took it.

“Fake sitters” took the place of 14 candidates taking both the English spoken and written exams.

The following week, when the candidate returned to sit the multiple choice exam, the correct answers were simply read out loud by the invigilator, and the candidate scored highly in all three of her exams. The Eden College International completely deny any knowledge or participation in the frauds.

Home Secretary Theresa May spoke of the programme saying: “What Panorama has uncovered is extremely important, it’s very shocking and I want to do something about it.” On BBC 4, she went on to say: “I’m grateful to Panorama for the work they have done in showing this abuse.”

bbcThe Home Office have suspended the government-approved English language exams, set and marked by the major language firm ETS. On their website is a notice for ETS to ensure the suspension of various tests in the UK for immigration purposes. The notice also states that those whom have already made appointments to take these test, will be refunded.

The two institutions identified by Panorama have been suspended, and 700 colleges have already been stopped from allowing students to enter from outside of the EU. ETS do not appoint the invigilators and despite setting the exams, ETS have said that it does everything it can to detect and prevent cheating, as well as the prevention of dishonest test administrators.

Each year, tens of thousands of Non-EU students get their visas extended in order to remain in the UK.  A Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) publication shows that there were 2,340,275 students studying at higher education institutions in the UK in the 2012/13 academic year, and that of these, 425,265 were students from outside the UK coming here to study.

The programme also revealed that fake bank account details were sold due to immigration rules requiring non-EU students to provide bank statements showing they can maintain themselves financially. One of the Studentway agents, Vinod Kumar, told an undercover Panorama candidate that he would use his contact in India to locate “someone else with the same name, whose account and money will be used for you. So when there is need for verification it’s verified for you till you get your visa.”

Two weeks later, Panorama’s candidate received a bank statement from Studentway which made it appear as if she had thousands of pounds within her account. Director Varinder Bajarh and Vinod Kumar both deny the claims, despite clearly being present in BBC’s footage on the fraudulent activity.