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UK “credibility interviews” likely to be fairer than predicted

The UK Council For International Student Affairs (UKCISA) has told The PIE News that the Home Office’s new “credibility interviews” of international students are likely to be fairer than predicted, after a survey revealed serious concerns about them last month. The latest information on the expansion of the visa interview scheme is that it will mainly be used to support rather than dictate visa decisions.

100,000 "high risk" students are set to be interviewed this financial year

The interviews, which test Tier 4 visa applicants’ English skills and genuineness, are likely to be rolled out over the next two months after a delay, with 100,000 “high risk” students interviewed this financial year.

The interviews are now likely to play an ancillary role in visa decision making

However, a UKCISA survey published in March revealed widespread concern about the rollout, with British educators claiming a pilot scheme last year led to many arbitrary and unjust visa refusals.

UKCISA CEO Dominic Scott said that the government had now heeded the concerns and would likely avoid on-the-spot visa decisions based on the interviews.

“Our survey saw significant numbers of students being refused on subjective grounds on the basis of a face to face or even telephone interview,” he told The PIE News.

“Our understanding however – and we would hope in part influenced by our report – is that in the new process students will have a brief video-conferenced interview, with an official in Sheffield, when giving their biometrics and in the vast majority of cases this will not lead to a decision on the application but merely to a report to the immigration officer who is considering the application in country.”

UKCISA interviewed 83 universities, FE colleges and private sector operators about their experiences of the pilot interviews, which were trialled on a small group of applicants between December 2011 and February 2012, before being extended to a larger group in July.

It found the interviews led in some cases to “unpredictable and subjective” decisions. Some schools claimed immigration officers imposed a higher English language bar than necessary; that those attending certain institutions were discriminated against (FE colleges in particular); or that students who did not know enough about their course syllabus were rejected.

Universities UK has said the new system must be workable and fair. “What we must monitor is the introduction of subjective decision-making into a process which should be largely objective,” CEO Nicola Dandridge said. “The decision-making process must be entirely transparent and the interview procedure made clear to genuine international students.”

“What we must monitor is the introduction of subjective decision-making into a process which should be largely objective”

Scott said the Home Office appeared to have heeded the complaints and that the interviews, which should be fully rolled out by June, would play an ancillary role in visa decisions.

“Only if an in country immigration officer has concerns on the basis of [a student’s] documentation and interview report, will they call the student to a more in-depth, in-country interview,” he said.

Concerns remain, though. Those called to more in-depth interviews still risk subjective decisions, Scott said. The interviews are also likely to “apply to everyone unless their nationality is ‘low risk’”, contradicting government claims they are only for “high risk” applicants.

The Home Office says that increasing its interview capability is key to weeding out student visa abuse. It’s initial pilot scheme found almost a third of interviewees 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. Some questioned scale of the trial given only 2,300 interviews were carried out.

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