A parliamentary inquiry has been ordered after an investigation by The Times exposed rampant abuse of Britain’s immigration controls by fraudsters at a network of bogus international colleges.
The Home Affairs Select Committee will summon Phil Woolas, the Immigration Minister, to explain why thousands of Pakistanis were able to gain visas for fake courses at sham institutions.
The Times revealed this week that eight of the terrorism suspects arrested last month in Manchester and Liverpool were admitted to one college that had only three classrooms and three teachers for its 1,797 students.
Most were Pakistanis and hundreds came from a militant region of the country that is the power base of al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taleban.
Another college, also in Manchester, claimed to have 150 students but secretly enrolled 1,178 and offered places to a further 1,575 foreigners, more than 900 of them Pakistanis.
Keith Vaz, the select committee’s chairman, said that it had longstanding concerns that non-EU citizens were gaining entry to the UK with the help of those running bogus colleges.
“The committee was very concerned by the reports in The Times. Because of what you have revealed, we felt it was important to hold a one-off inquiry into this whole area of immigration policy,” he said. “If there is a problem, and there appears to be, this loophole needs to be closed immediately.”
Mr Vaz said that he was particularly concerned by the disclosure that all but two of the men detained in April over an alleged al-Qaeda bomb plot were, on paper, students at Manchester College of Professional Studies. It was one of 11 colleges in London, Manchester and Bradford to be investigated by The Times. All were formed in the past five years and controlled by three young Pakistani businessmen. Their colleges contributed to a steep rise — from 7,975 in 2002 to 26,935 in 2007 — in the number of Pakistani citizens allowed to enter or remain in the UK as students.
Mr Woolas and representatives of college associations will give evidence before the select committee on June 2. The next day, more than 2,500 allegedly bogus diplomas issued by one college will be the focus of a test case before the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. A student is challenging the Home Office’s decision to refuse visa extensions to applicants who submitted postgraduate diplomas from Cambridge College of Learning. The college, in East London, closed last December after it was raided by police and the UK Border Agency.