50 000 migrants use UK visa loophole
London - Up to 50 000 migrants from outside the European Union posed as students to exploit new visa rules to come and work illegally in Britain, a watchdog said on Tuesday.
The highly critical report by the National Audit Office prompted lawmakers to call for the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to "get a grip and fix the way it deals with student visas".
Up to a sixth of all student visa applicants from outside the EU exploited the new system in the first year following its introduction in 2009 because it did not contain proper controls to detect bogus students, the NAO said.
The report says the UKBA also does little to ensure that foreign students leave Britain after their requests to extend their stay are refused.
The watchdog hired a contractor to trace 812 migrants wanted by the agency, finding them within a week at a cost of just £3 000.
"This is one of the most shocking reports of poor management leading to abuse that I have seen, said Margaret Hodge, chair of the Commons Committee of Public Accounts.
"It is completely unacceptable that the programme was launched without key controls being in place," the lawmaker added.
"The agency has done little to stop students overstaying their visas. And it is extremely worrying that the agency does not know how many people with expired student visas are still in the country."
A points-based visa system for non-EU migrants was introduced under the then Labour government 3 years ago in a bid to reduce abuses.
But immigration officials have complained they have been forced to issue visas to people they would have refused under the previous system.
The new system saw sharp rises in applications from Bangladesh, China and north India, the report said.
Officials believe most of the abuses were in the first year after the system was introduced.
The Home Office, or interior ministry, said "tough new rules" were now cutting student visa numbers.
A total of 292 000 visas and 110 000 visa extensions have been granted to students and their dependants each year since the new system was brought in.