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UK Border Force “grills” international students on academic course content

International students from Africa are being grilled about the academic content of their courses at the point of entry into the UK by border force officials, a solicitor has claimed.
October 25 2023
4 Min Read

International students from Africa are being grilled about the academic content of their courses at the point of entry into the UK by border force officials, a solicitor has claimed.

Dele Olawanle, owner and principal solicitor of UK-based Del & Co. Solicitors told The PIE News that several students have been detained and sent back to their home countries in cases where they haven’t been able to answer questions relating to their course.

The PIE spoke with students, including a Chevening Scholar, who said he felt intimidated and embarrassed after an encounter with a Border Force official who asked him why he was given his scholarship.

The Home Office said checks on students are sometimes necessary in order to maintain a safe and secure border.

“I’ve seen students being denied entry… There are people who go to the point of entry and they will be asking them questions like “How did you find out about the course, what research do you do, why are you coming?”” Olawanle told The PIE.

“Those are questions that these students have already answered with the university before the university issued them with a CAS…

“Some UK Border Force agents… are trying to turn themselves into academic experts on something they know nothing about, then denying people entry. It’s wrong,” Olawanle said.

He explained that students often don’t realise that they might be questioned at the border.

“Let’s say you’ve just gained admission to a school of journalism, and somebody starts asking you in-depth questions about the course you are going to study. How would you know? How many students go into the full syllabus before they start the course?” he explained.

“I think that approach is oppressive because when a student is coming to study a course, they have maybe the reading list, but how do you expect them to answer you adequately? And in an atmosphere that isn’t friendly? It’s just impossible. Even the best prepared student will not be able to answer you correctly.”

The PIE spoke with one Chevening scholar called David who is studying an MA at the University of Birmingham.

He said he was detained and questioned about his course and asked why he had been awarded a Chevening scholarship.

“The border officer was not being polite, he was too harsh with me. That was a show of force, of power…

“I felt bad the way they treated me. With other people before me, they went smoothly through, in less time. But when it was my turn he asked where I would be doing my course, my school, what method or route I used to come.

“I said a Chevening Scholarship, which is from the UK government. And he said, “why should they have given you a scholarship?” He asked me who I was, who I was working for. Why did I merit the scholarship? It was tough on me…”

David said he was left feeling embarrassed and upset by the encounter.

“I’ve seen students being denied entry”

Numerous users commented on Twitter saying they had experienced similar treatment.

Olawanle claimed that students aren’t always able to get access to legal advice in cases where they have been detained.

“They delay their ability to get a lawyer. A client is coming into the country, not expecting to be stopped at the point of entry,” he said.

“So when they get to the border and Border Force say sit down, we want to interview you… they take them into the holding centre at the airport. When they get to holding centre, this is someone who knows no lawyer, and they are not given free access to any lawyer.

“We get contacted by their family members, friends, spouses or people from their home country…

“When we call the UK Border Force with the details of the passenger, they say we can’t talk to you, because you don’t have a letter of authority, now how do we get a letter of authority without speaking with the client? So they put a barrier between the lawyer and the passenger until they remove them.”

The human impact of being sent back home can be devastating, Olawanle said.

“The person is then detained and removed… When this passenger leaves the country, most of them do not have the financial resources to fight back,” he said.

“He said, “why should they have given you a scholarship?””

“Because in most cases, most of them had resigned from their job – sold their land, sold their car to pay the school – to buy the ticket.”

The PIE contacted the Home Office to make them aware of Olawanle’s claims around students being sent back to their home countries and asked whether Border Force officials should be asking for details about the academic content of courses.

It explained that the Immigration Rules require all arriving passengers to establish their eligibility for admission. Every passenger’s passport or national identity card is checked electronically and there are also times when extra checks are conducted – these checks, sometimes on students, are “necessary” in order to maintain a safe and secure border.

In some instances, individuals without the necessary immigration permission for the activities that they intend to undertake in the UK may be refused permission to enter at the border, which makes them liable for detention, the Home Office said.

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