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UK to interview all “high-risk” visa applicants

In news announced last week, the UK will usher in mandatory interviews for student visa applicants from countries deemed “high risk” from the end of the month, after uncovering hundreds of sub-standard visa applications in a pilot study of 13 visa posts. Education agencies in Pakistan – where interviews already take place – claim it will deter some students from applying to the UK in favour of other destinations.

Officers can now deny applications after the interview process

It is likely applicants from Nigeria, North Asia and the Indian subcontinent will be required to take part, although the list of countries involved is yet to be confirmed. UK border officers will be given greater powers of refusal under the scheme.

“With more interviews and greater powers to refuse bogus students we will weed out abuse and protect the UK from those looking to play the system,” Immigration Minister Damian Green said last week.

Around a fifth of applicants were said to have insufficient English

The pilot study, which ran in the three months to February, saw border officers interview 2,300 applicants from 47 countries who were already approved for visas. It found almost 32% lacked legitimacy when scrutinised over factors such as their intention to leave the UK after their course, ability to study the course, or financial circumstances.

The rate of refusal was highest for applicants from Burma (62%), Nigeria (59%), India (59%) and Bangladesh (59%).

Meanwhile, around a fifth of applicants were said to have insufficient English despite having an approved English language test certificate.

The majority of those interviewed were from India and Pakistan and 62% were male and aged between 21 and 29.

The UK Border Agency will now interview all high-risk applicants worldwide, probing them about their immigration and education history, study and post-study plans and financial circumstances. Border officers will also be able to deny applications after an interview.

UKBA is expected to carry out up to 14,000 interviews in the coming year

“Under the current system UK Border Agency officers are unable to refuse some applications even if they have serious concerns over the credibility of the student,” Green explained. “We are toughening up the system.”

While a list of participating countries is yet to surface, the Home Office said the impact of increased interviewing combined with credibility testing could “potentially be highest in India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Burma and the Philippines”. UKBA is expected to carry out up to 14,000 interviews in the coming year.

In Pakistan, where applicants have been interviewed since April following the pilot scheme, education agents said the process had harmed recruitment.

Osamah Qureshi, director of Student Counseling Services said: “Serious students will not be affected, but a large portion of average students will be discouraged to apply as they have to travel to Islamabad and have to face a British visa officer answering various questions.” He said the cost of travelling to Islamabad was too much for some.

“A large portion of average students will be discouraged to apply”

Humail Khan, director and owner of HS Consultants, said turn-out for UK schools had slowed and clients were looking to new destinations. “Australia is the new venue with new work visa opportunities after master and PhD programmes,” he said, citing that market’s recent visa reforms.

Countries excluded from the interview system include Argentina, Brunei, Chile, Croatia, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago and Taiwan among others.

Green said: “Britain is open for business to the brightest and the best migrants but the message is clear – if you lie on your application form or try to hide your true motivation for coming to the UK then you will be found out and refused a visa.”

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