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UKBA uncovers illegal foreign student workers

As part of an ongoing campaign to tackle visa abuse by the UKBA, authorities in the UK have arrested 20 students, who were predominantly of Bangladeshi and Indian origin, for working up to three-and-a-half times longer than their visas allowed for Tesco, one of the country’s top four supermarket chains.

"Students are jeopardising their education in this country and their ability to re-enter the UK"

While Tesco could face fines of up to £200,000, a Home Office spokesman said the university students, all over 18,  “now face removal from the UK” over the alleged breaches of visa rules that restrict the hours students can work. It is thought that at least seven of the students have been deported since the raid bringing up questions of responsibility in students’ right to work in the UK.

“We haven’t seen widespread coverage of students being picked up in operations like this”

Despite national media coverage of the incident, industry experts say it is not that common. “We know the UKBA is increasingly concentrating on enforcement but we haven’t seen widespread coverage of students being picked up in operations like this,” Beatrice Merrick, director of services and research at the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) told The PIE News. “Hopefully that means that means that most of them were following the rules.”

Students on a Tier 4 international student visa are allowed to work up to 20 hours a week part-time and full-time during vacation depending on the level of their course. The terms are strict and do not allow students to take an average of hours worked, but a maximum of 20 in any given week.

Still, some confusion can occur between employers and students. “It’s difficult to say how the this happens,” commented Merrick. “It’s not yet known if Tesco took the correct checks to ensure the students were working legally but there are areas where there could be ambiguity. For example, the employer might not know whether a student is on vacation or not which would allow them to work full time.”

Alison Clark, director of the not-for-profit National Association of Student Employment Services (NASES), said checks should be made on all new recruits at the start of employment to establish their eligibility to work.  In the process, any international students are flagged up and their hours should be monitored by the employer, as well as the student.

Many of the NASES members’ job shops at around 100 universities throughout the UK monitor the hours a student works directly. But, Clark emphasises that “it is the student’s responsibility to comply with the rules and job shops work hard with other departments within the University to ensure international students understand the regulations and limits of their international student visa”.

“It is the student’s responsibility to comply with the rules”

UKCISA agrees that students are ultimately responsible for staying within the visa restrictions and could face hash consequences if they don’t. “They must be aware of the risks of breaching their visa because they are jeopardising their education in this country and their ability to reenter the UK,” said Merrick.

Organisations are also in place to protect foreign student workers from exploitation on the job. NASES works with the Trades Union Congress and the National Union of Students to promote and protect student rights and run a number of campaigns throughout the year to raise the profile of students working. Part of these campaigns is to highlight employment law relating to student work, including hours worked by international students.

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