Education & Family

Foreign students made to queue through the night

Students queue
Image caption Students queuing before dawn on Tuesday outside the Overseas Visitors Record Centre in London

Hundreds of foreign students are having to queue outdoors through the night to register with the police on arrival to the UK, it has emerged.

International students from 42 countries living in Greater London are required to register within seven days at a single office in south-east London.

The volume of students and a staff cut appear to be creating very long waits.

The Metropolitan Police said it had extended the opening hours.

But a message on the website of the Overseas Visitors Records Office says students are starting to queue from midnight, even though the office does not open until the morning.

It continues: "In the interest of health and safety we would kindly request that you do not start queuing at this time as it forces us to close our queues as early as 6.30am."

The website also warns there will be occasions when the office has to close at very short notice.

Universities UK said it had raised the matter at the "highest level" with the Universities Minister David Willetts.

It said similar issues arose every year but that it seemed to be particularly bad this year in London, where a third of the UK's 100,000 foreign students come to study.

The revelation comes after concerns about damage to the UK's reputation with potential students abroad after a London university had its licence to recruit and teach international students revoked.

Daniel Stevens, international students officer for the National Union of Students, filmed the queue in the early hours of the morning and sent the video to the BBC News website to highlight the issue.

He said that some time before the office opens a member of staff comes out and starts counting the queue, letting some people in. Then much of the rest of the queue is turned away, only to return the next night for more of the same.

Mr Stevens said: "The students who are queuing there are outraged that they are having to do this.

"It is absolutely unacceptable that students be asked to be queue for hours, often in terrible weather, and be expected to arrive before 06.30 to have any chance of being seen."

'Highest level'

Image caption Concerns that foreign students do not feel welcome in the UK have already been raised

He added: "A lot of these students have just arrived in the UK and they are new to the culture here. They want to be vocal but they are intimidated, particularly because the police are involved.

"The ones who are turned away are the most unhappy because they do not know what to do or whether they can start their courses."

He said it was not clear why international students were being required to register in this way as the UK Border Agency already holds all their details.

And he pointed out that other foreign nationals were having to queue there as well, including foreign teenagers attending an English boarding school.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said the way the UK Border Agency requirement to register overseas students is implemented is a matter for the local police.

The Metropolitan Police said in a statement: "There have been lengthy queues recently at the Overseas' Visitors Record Office at Brandon House, 180 Borough High Street, SE1.

"This is usual for September and October, as the reopening of universities means an influx of students from countries whose registration with police is required by law."

It said the office was now opening an hour and a half earlier than usual, at 07:30 BST, to cope with demand.

'PR disasters'

University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said such poor arrangements were damaging Britain's international reputation.

"At a time when we need to be attracting the brightest brains to this country, and are already facing huge competition from other countries, we seem to be intent on committing PR disasters for the whole world to see.

"This footage is going to do absolutely nothing to improve the situation. We need a clear statement that the UK is open for business and welcomes foreign students."

Chief executive of Universities UK Nicola Dandridge said she had written to ministers about this seeking an urgent solution to the problem.

"The immediate priority is to find a way of alleviating this issue in the short term. The current situation is unacceptable.

"We have supported government in ensuring that legitimate international students comply with the rules. But the government has a duty to them in return. These are often young people in an unfamiliar country. We want to welcome them here, and support them as they settle in."

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