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Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 26:


"( ) Immigration rules specified for the purpose of this section may include the requirement that a person who is normally domiciled outside the United Kingdom who travels to the United Kingdom to study shall provide evidence that he is registered to study at an education establishment that has been approved for the purpose by the Secretary of State."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 26 is a probing amendment. Its purpose is to ensure that Immigration Rules may include a requirement that somebody who lives overseas who comes here to study should not be able to abuse the process by which student visas are obtained in order that they may obtain entry when they have no intention of carrying out bona fide studies at bona fide colleges.

As my noble friend Lady Carnegy has pointed out to me, it is a good job that this is a probing amendment because it is not effectively drafted. It looks as though the amendment covers people who live normally within the EEA areas—the new areas from which they have the right to study at any college they like because they have right of residence here. I am targeting my concerns at those who have no right to remain here unless they get leave to do so.

The Minister acknowledged in Committee that the Government propose to draw up a register of approved colleges, and that if a student is not registered at one of those then they will not be able to get a student visa. At that stage the Minister was not
 
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able to give much of an answer to the questions I put about how the register would operate and on what principles it would be based. He said that we would have a chance to return to the matter at Report. So I am giving him the chance to return to that with this amendment.

The questions that I would like to put to the Minister are as follows. What will be the criteria that will determine a college's eligibility to get on to the register in the first place? Does the Minister accept that it is vital that there should be quality control involved? Does he accept that it is important that the college should have to demonstrate that it meets the current Home Office criteria for a "bona fide" institution, for example, one that involved running full-time courses with qualified staff and keeping registers of attendance? Has the DfES agreed to that as a requirement?

Which department will operate the list as far as immigration control is concerned? Surely it should be the Home Office since its decision to grant or withhold permission to enter the UK is the key to the whole matter. Why will the Government not put the provisions regarding the register and a right of appeal for colleges which are excluded on to the face of the Bill—to give clarity and fairness? If they fail to do that, they leave everything to administrative action—or inaction—and we are left with neither clarity nor equity.

If there are no statutory provisions regarding the register, is it the case that the Government may not charge fees for registration and inspection? If so, surely that means that the Government would impose further burdens on the taxpayer for a system that should surely be self-funding.

I anticipate that the Minister on this occasion should be able to give full answers to all these questions on the implementation of the proposals, but of course there have been significant developments since the Committee stage. Both of those developments I hope would mean that the Government have the full answer now, because, first, there was a DfES press release on 18 June which announced the creation of a register to be fully in place by the end of this year. It said it would cover,

That worries me. What does "evidence of legitimate business" mean? Does that mean it is not necessarily a bona fide college—it can just cough up accounts to prove that it has been taking money from people? How does that operate?

The press release goes on to say:

that is good—

We are then told that there is a consultation going on and that the Secretary of State for Education and Skills will give an update in the next month. But the editor's note has a kick in the tail. The timeframe in that editor's
 
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note says that the register is up and running from May this year—that is, now—for all publicly funded accredited providers. Can the Minister confirm whether that is the case and that the Home Office is operating on that basis?

The editor's note says that from May until the end of the year the DfES will "market"—its word—the scheme to private providers. What is going on? The press release makes no mention at all of any procedure by which education providers can appeal against rejection of their application to be on the register. What about the register itself? Considering I have my noble friend Lady Carnegy behind me, is it going to be UK-wide? If it is operated by the DfES instead of the Home Office, does that mean that Scotland is covered?

The second event for which I hope the Minister has a full barrage of answers is the evidence given to the Public Accounts Committee on 21 June on the issue of bogus colleges. Mr Bill Jeffrey, the director-general of the IND, is reported in The Times on 22 June as having told the Public Accounts Committee that:

I congratulate those carrying out the investigations into bogus colleges. We hope that it is done in a thoroughly robust manner and has a robust outcome.

However, I am concerned that he went on to say that anyone applying for a course at one of the 100 bogus colleges will automatically be refused a student visa. That is fine. If they are bogus colleges, it is excellent—but we do not yet know whether they are; we do not have any proof that they are bogus.

I was further worried when an official at the Home Office said that it was not willing to identify those 100 bogus colleges. So we have the worst of administrative action here. We have people saying, "There are bogus colleges but we are not going to tell you which they are. We are going to refuse people permission to go to them". To me, this is an example of where the Government may be doing the right thing, but they are doing it in such a way that it makes one think that they may not be doing the right thing. That cannot be good for the education sector as a whole.

I would like to see transparency in the way in which the register is operated. I hope that it will be operated directly by the Home Office; not by the DfES, but in agreement with it. I beg to move.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, as I understand it—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—the Secretary of State already has the power to refuse a visa to someone who applies to come here and attend a bogus college established as a means of evading immigration controls. As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, told the House, the Home Secretary announced last week that colleges and other educational establishments will have to register, and visas would be issued only to students attending courses at the registered establishments.
 
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It is already a requirement of the rules that a person applying for entry as a student must show that he has been accepted for a recognised course of study at a bona fide private education institution which maintains satisfactory records of enrolment and attendance, and that he or she is able and intends to follow either,

It appears that the Secretary of State has suddenly woken up to the bogus colleges' scam and the police have taken belated action against some of the more blatant of them. If someone is operating a business to enable people to enter the UK as students and not providing them with 15 hours of organised daytime study, a criminal offence is being committed by the managers of the business. There were indeed arrests, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, following the raids last week on alleged bogus colleges in south London and Essex.

Incidentally, I note that these raids seem to have been confined to very limited areas. We all know that there are private education institutions offering, for example, courses in English as a foreign language in many other places, such as Hastings and other seaside towns. I am not saying that any of them are sham colleges; it is simply that the practice of bringing foreign students into this country for these purposes is not confined to London and Essex. If there have been as many as 100 bogus colleges identified, as the noble Baroness said, one would have expected the raids to be rather more widespread than they were.

A person who has been given a visa or entry certificate to attend one of those colleges should have his leave to remain withdrawn. It would be interesting to know what action has been or is being taken to ensure that the persons enrolled at these bogus colleges leave the country. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell us a little more about the students who were enrolled at the 100 alleged bogus colleges that have so far been identified, and what is being done about the remaining 400 colleges which are still under investigation.

I thought that the Home Secretary said that the proposed register would be up and running by the end of the year. Although the noble Baroness said that part of it is already in operation, I think that is the part that relates to public institutions, which are not the target of the measure. We are referring here to the private educational establishments. No one coming here to attend university would bother to make such an application if he or she intended solely to evade the Immigration Rules. He or she would choose one of the private educational establishments set up for the specific purpose of getting around the immigration controls.
 
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Are the Government satisfied that in the remaining six months, when they register the private institutions, that the police have the resources and the intelligence to enable them to deal with this racket? Have diplomatic posts overseas been alerted to it so that entry certificate applications can be refused in cases where the bogus colleges are confirmed?


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