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Games students play to stay on in UK

In From the VarsityRuhi Khan bares tricks foreign students play to earn a right to live and work in the UK. An instance: "UK is the land of dreams, and I need to sleep a little longer to enjoy my dream," laughs Linda* as she jumps with joy showing off the Permanent Residency (PR) stamp on her passport. "I got married to an Italian man," she justified with a wink. And she narrated the story of her unusual marriage.

india Updated: Jan 09, 2004 13:27 IST
Ruhi Khan

Foreign students have many a tricks up their sleeve in order to earn a right to live and work in the UK.

Overseas applicants to UK institutions are on a 10.9 per cent overall increase this year, according to figure published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). In the UK there are 1.8 million full-time and part-time students in higher education, which include over 300,000 international students from 180 different countries.

Every year, thousands of foreign students (not generally from India) enter UK under the guise of learning English. Many more come to the UK for "higher education". Of this an increasingly growing number of students use student visa as a cover up to stay and work for a limited period of time. But once they get the taste of UK life, many refuse to give up the glitter of this country and go back home.

Instead they would do anything to stay; from illegal overstaying, fake visa stamps, bribery and fraud to marriage of convenience: just everything is "ok" to set up camp in the UK.

The Marriage Trade
"UK is the land of dreams, and I need to sleep a little longer to enjoy my dream," laughs Linda* as she jumps with joy showing off the Permanent Residency (PR) stamp on her passport. "I got married to an Italian man," she justified with a wink. And she narrated the story of her unusual marriage.

No wedding bells, no choir singing, no wows confessing eternal love, no promises of being "together till death do us apart" - just a stack of hard cash exchanging hands and an unwritten marriage contact that expires automatically when one gets a PR. Marriages today can allegedly be bought and sold in the market for anything between £2000-5000.

Linda first stepped on the shores of UK five ago at the age of 21 to learn English. She went to her college for the first year, renewed her visa for the second year and when that was about to expire, she reportedly paid an Englishman £2500 to marry her so she could stay as a dependant for a year after which it would automatically get converted into a PR if the couple lived together for 12 months.

"It was easy, not a heavy price for a PR stamp on my passport. Do you know it means that I can live here and work here unconditionally!"

Admissions bought and sold in the open market
Brenda*, manages three odd jobs during the week. "I have a day job, an evening job and one for the weekends," she proudly says. "I want to make lot of money so that I can go for a nice vacation to Europe every year", says the Ghana resident.

Most restaurants or coffee shops are not particular about a person's status. They don't usually check up passports or care what visa a person is on as long as they can get cheap labour. Full time foreign students have work restrictions (20 hours per week) but they are also the vulnerable part of the labour market as their desperation to meet their living expenses makes them easily gullible to low wages and "nasty jobs no Englishman would do".

She has been in the UK for eight years now. When asked how she does it, she simply smiles and says: "It is easy, I keep studying." Of course, Brenda is not the one to study but her passport reveals the five student visa extensions she has managed to get. I keep changing my colleges and do "higher education"; sometimes languages, sometimes computers.

"There are many colleges that would sell you enrolment letters and attendance confirmation. You just need the dough to get them," she alleges.

Brenda's trick of trade is to leave the country as if on holiday just before the visa expires and renew the visa at the port of entry. "It is quicker and there are no hassles. Sending all your documents to the embassy is time consuming and troublesome. Also people at the port of entry don't ask too many questions," advises Brenda.

The Money Game
Ray* works full time at a restaurant and is quite familiar with the ways to bend rules and get visa extension.

"Show enough money in your bank to finance your studies and meet your cost of living. Beg, borrow or steal but make sure your bank account is loaded," Ray asserts quite forcefully. "Move your money around from one account to another so that there are enough deposits and withdrawals. Your statement should show a regular income and expenses," explains Ray.

'The system is at flaw'
"It is easy to get a student visa. All you need is the enrolment letter and other necessary letters like attendance and your bank statements," says an immigration lawyer. "The focus on developing education in the UK makes it obvious to expect a large number of applications for the student visa," he adds.

The Home Office acknowledges the flaws in the system and is quite aware of the abuse that takes place in the guise of student visa. They insist that they do everything possible to carry out rigorous checks of the applications.

"It would indeed be a Herculean task to filter the bogus applications from genuine ones as both look alike in all aspects," says a Home Office spokesperson. The fake applicants also obtain genuine letters from colleges that are open to sale. "The problem is not the letter but the means through which it is obtained," asserts the spokesperson.

"Perhaps, the measure to introduce fees for student visa extension is Home Office's way of curtailing fake applications," says the immigration lawyer.

However, this would hit the genuine students harder as they only work for limited hours (20 a week) whereas people who don't study manage 50-80 hours a week easily. People who can pay £1000-5000 to obtain fake documents can quite easily manage the additional £150-250 visa fees. But for the genuine students it would definitely be an added burden.

* Names changed to protect identities.

First Published: Jan 06, 2004 11:57 IST