Minister reveals scale of student visa fraud

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The government has revealed that tens of thousands of immigrants may have fraudulently obtained English language certificates in order to secure a UK student visa.

A Home Office investigation found evidence of 29,000 "invalid" tests and 19,000 "questionable" results at Educational Testing Services (ETS) centres in the UK.

The inquiry was launched after a BBC Panorama programme revealed that ETS, an official test provider, had been engaged in "systematic cheating" in its UK centres.

Immigration Minister James Brokenshire told MPs there was evidence of "organised criminality" and that a criminal investigation had been launched, in a statement on 24 June 2014.

The Commons heard that some invigilators supplied or read out answers to whole rooms, and imposters were allowed to sit the exam on behalf of candidates.

Shadow Home Office minister David Hanson said the scale of "systematic abuse on this government's watch... is truly shocking" and risked damaging the credibility of the system.

He asked whether the Home Office had been aware of the problems prior to the BBC's Panorama programme , "and if not why not".

The minister, in reply, said the coalition had inherited from Labour a "legacy" of abuse of the student visa system and insisted steps are being taken to stamp it out.

He informed the House that immigration enforcement officers are working to identify and remove migrants who are in the country illegally as a result of the falsified tests.

The Home Office suspended English language tests run by ETS after evidence of fraud was uncovered.

Home Affairs Committee chair Keith Vaz called for face-to-face interviewing of people abroad applying to study in the UK, arguing: "If that was done they would never get here in the first place."

Lib Dem Julian Huppert sounded a note of caution about "the tenor of the debate", and stressed that bona fide students should be assured that they are welcome to come and study here.

As a result of the investigation, Glyndwr University has had its right to sponsor foreign students suspended, along with 57 private further education colleges.

In addition, the University of Bedfordshire and the University of West London will not be allowed to sponsor new students pending further investigations into whether they should be suspended.

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