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NAO review of student route immigration

The National Audit Office (NAO) has issued a report on the 2009 implementation of a points based route, known as Tier 4, by which students from countries outside the European Economic Area can study in the UK.

The report has found that the UK Border Agency implemented Tier 4 with flaws which were predictable and could have been avoided. The Agency has not dealt efficiently and effectively with overstayers and students in breach of the rules.

Under the previous system of student immigration for non-EEA students, replaced by Tier 4, there was no limit to the number of students whom a college could enrol and students were free to move college and course as they wished without notifying the Agency. Under Tier 4, each student must be sponsored by educational institutions licensed by the Agency and cannot change college without applying to the Agency. Sponsoring colleges are responsible for judging students' intentions to study.

The Agency implemented Tier 4 before the key controls were in place. Based on college enrolment rates and changes in application patterns, the NAO estimates that, in its first year of operation, between 40,000 and 50,000 individuals may have entered the UK via Tier 4 to work rather than to study. The Agency did not check that those who entered the UK as students were attending college.

The Agency introduced new controls in 2011 and a fully-documented compliance strategy in December 2011 that are likely to reduce the number of problem students. But it will not be possible to determine the value for money of the Points Based System for students, unless the Agency establishes ways to measure its success in tackling abuse, including how it deals with overstaying, and to establish the full cost of its Tier 4 related activities.


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