Immigration loophole ‘exploited’ by companies

The Government’s immigration cap has been labelled a “sham” as new figures reveal that companies will be able to bypass the restriction to bring in thousands of foreign workers.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, announced last week that the number of migrant workers coming to the UK from outside the European Union will be limited to 24,400 a year

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, announced last week that the number of migrant workers coming to the UK from outside the European Union will be limited to 24,400 a year

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, announced last week that the number of migrant workers coming to the UK from outside the European Union will be limited to 24,400 a year, fulfilling a Conservative manifesto pledge.

However, the Home Office has admitted that the interim cap will not apply to a system known as “intra-company transfers”, or ICTs, which allows firms to bring in non-EU nationals who are already on their payroll.

New figures reveal the extent to which companies are able to use the ICT system to import foreign staff on a massive scale.

One Indian company, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), sponsored 4,600 of its employees to come to Britain in 2008 through ICTs, according to Home Office data.

Although there is no suggestion that TCS has broken the rules, the scale of immigration from India through the intra-company transfers is startling.

Another Indian company, Infosys Technologies Limited, sponsored 3,235 foreigners to come to the UK in the same year, while a third, Wipro Technologies, brought in 2,420.

While the Home Office has said that there were 30,000 arrivals under the ICT system last year, this was down from a total the previous year of 46,000 – suggesting that the use of ICTs could rise again when the global economy recovers.

In 1992 there were only 7,000, rising by 1997 to 15,000.

Indians make up 70 per cent of the migrants brought to Britain on ICTs, while others are from nations including the US, South Africa, Japan and China.

Although the system is intended to help companies which cannot recruit suitable candidates within the UK, critics claim that in practice much of the work could easily have been done by Britons.

The Home Office has disclosed the names of around 20,000 employers which are registered to bring skilled migrant workers into Britain on so-called “Tier 2” visas.

Names on the list, published on the UK Border Agency website last week, range from Chelsea Football Club and Conservative Campaign Headquarters to hundreds of Thai restaurants, Indian takeaways and kebab shops.

Among the companies on the list, around 4,700 are permitted to use ICTs. Yet the UK Border Agency only has 125 staff responsible for visiting sponsor companies and keeping checks on them.

Unions and professional bodies claim that ICTs are being manipulated by some companies as a source of cheap labour, undercutting British employees and forcing them out of work.

The Government is still considering the details of the permanent annual cap on non-EU migrant worker numbers, which will replace the interim cap announced last week.

It has yet to decide whether to include or exclude ICTs from the permanent cap.

One British IT worker described how his contract at Lloyds TSB was cut short after the bank hired a dozen Indian trainees through the ICT system.

“There was a team of about 20 people, most of whom were contractors like myself, but Lloyds brought in 12 to 15 Indians to be trained by us to do the work,” said the expert, who did not want to be named.

“The company said the Indian employees would only do low-level work but then the British workers’ contracts were cut short, with just a couple kept on to supervise the Indian employees.

“These jobs would have been ideal for someone coming off a computing degree in the UK, but the company was shipping in people from abroad.

“People there did not like it at all – they could see the writing on the wall. If you went to the offices about 80 per cent of IT workers were Indian.”

The IT specialist, who has 20 years’ experience in the industry, said use of ICTs was widespread in the banking industry.

“ICTs are used to bring large numbers of people in for the purposes of cheap labour,” he said.

“I’m shocked that the Government are exempting ICTs from their cap. It makes their promise a complete sham.

“Surely they understand that it is leaving the door wide open for this type of abuse?”

A spokesman for Lloyds TSB declined to comment on the claims.

George Anastasi, policy adviser at the Professional Contractors Group which represents freelance and contract workers, said: “Some large companies are exploiting the loophole offered by ICTs and we want to see the system changed so it cannot be abused in this way.

“We believe that intra-company transfers have displaced lots of British IT workers, putting some of them out of work.

“We are hoping the Government will do the right thing and tighten the rules. Something needs to be done – ICTs cannot be ignored forever.”

Peter Skyte of the trade union Unite said: “Our prediction is that the ICT will remain after the interim period because of pressure from multinationals and from embassies.

“We are very concerned about displacement of UK resident workers and its potential for undercutting pay rates. We think its use should be limited to senior management, key personnel and people coming to the UK for training programmes.

“There should also be a defined annual minimum salary of £40,000.”

Applicants for an ICT must earn above a minimum salary level, to ensure that they are skilled workers, but the level has been set at only £24,000 a year, or only £20,000 a year for those with a degree.

A previous requirement for companies to prove that staff being brought in under ICTs had specific knowledge and that jobs could not be filled by Britons was relaxed at the end of 2008.

Although the rules state that a worker brought in on an ICT must not “be directly replacing a settled worker”, many in the IT industry report that this requirement is not adhered to in practice.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the pressure group MigrationWatch, said: “The ICT is being abused on a very significant scale. It is very easy to ‘game’ the system and ensure that your applicant just fits within the requirements.

“Policing of the ICT needs to be strengthened to ensure it is not being manipulated.”

One reason for bringing applicants to Britain was to “prepare the ground” for moving operations overseas, such as moving call centres and data processing to India, he said.

A report by the Government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) last summer expressed concern about ICTs and recommended that the Government should “consider both the level of resource it devotes to enforcement and the transparency of these activities”.

Other countries with equivalent systems to the UK’s ICT require candidates to be more senior employees, or to have been with their employer for longer.

The MAC recommended extending the required period of employment from six months to 12.

Damian Green, the immigration minister, said: “It is important that we attract the brightest and the best people who can make a real difference to our economic growth, but immigration is too high and needs to be reduced.

“The Government has announced it will introduce a limit on economic migration from outside the EU as part of work to scale back net migration to the levels of the 1990s, to the tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands.

“Our consultation contains proposals for restricting the ICT route by bringing long-term transfers within our annual limit.”

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Immigration rules result in flood of bogus students

Serious flaws in immigration controls have been uncovered by The Sunday Telegraph only days after a chief government adviser called for a review of Britain’s student visa system.

New Home Office rules, which ministers promised would reduce the number of new arrivals, have actually led to a surge in applications

New Home Office rules, which ministers promised would reduce the number of new arrivals, have actually led to a surge in applications

Our undercover reporters have exposed a host of scams offered to foreign nationals desperate to come to Britain as bogus students.

New Home Office immigration rules, which ministers promised would reduce the number of new arrivals, have actually led to a surge in applications and prompted immigration officials to voice their concerns.

Thousands of bogus students are being handed British visas after the Government’s much-heralded reform of the immigration system created a major loophole, an investigation by The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.

Whistleblowers within the immigration service have revealed for the first time that rising numbers of student visa applications have created a big global backlog because new Home Office rules left officials powerless to refuse fraudulent applicants.

Undercover reporters in three foreign countries have also exposed a host of fraudulent methods used in attempts to exploit weaknesses in the Home Office’s new “points-based” immigration system.

These include:

:: Fake “relatives” in Britain offered at $1,000 (£610) each, to make visa applications look more impressive.

:: Under-the-counter loans organised for foreigners to “prove” they can pay course fees and support themselves, although the money is handed back to the lender once it has appeared on bank statements.

:: Immigrants being advised to apply to a legitimate university and then switch to a bogus college once on British soil.

Last week, Professor David Metcalf, the chairman of the Home Office’s Migration Advisory Committee, said he was “stunned” by the number of colleges allowed to bring students into the country on degree courses despite them being “not proper universities”, and called for the scope of student visa sponsorship to be reviewed. A separate review is already under way after Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, last month called for a rethink of the student visa system.

The situation has worsened to such an extent, and created such a rush of applications, that one foreign government has already raised “concerns” about the points-based system with Home Office ministers, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

Government officials in the Philippines alerted British consular staff to the large number of poorly-educated citizens who were heading for Britain on study visas.

Theresa Dizon-de Vega, Consul-General at the Philippine Embassy in London, said: “The Ambassador had a very productive discussion recently with minister Phil Woolas and officials of the UK Home Office.

“The Philippine Embassy and the UK Home Office agreed to co-ordinate closely and exchange information and views on various immigration-related concerns including the implementation of the new points-based system of migration.”

It is a major blow for the points-based system (PBS) which was meant to “raise the bar” and reduce the number of immigrants coming to Britain from outside Europe.

Devised by Liam Byrne, the former immigration minister who has since promoted to the Cabinet as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the PBS came into force for overseas students in March.

It requires students to have 40 points to come to Britain. Applicants receive 30 points for holding a course offer from a college or university, and 10 points for proving they can pay the fees and support themselves while in the country.

Sources within the UK Border Agency claim the PBS removed the discretion of entry clearance officers in British embassies around the world, who are now forced to approve applications if candidates demonstrate they have 40 points, even if they suspect the applicant is a fraud.

An investigation by this newspaper has exposed widespread abuse by visa agencies in India, China and the Philippines which are advising customers on how to get around the British Government’s requirements, with some admitting that most “students” were simply coming here to work.

One agency in Fazilka, in Punjab, India, made an extraordinary pledge, telling our reporter: “We guarantee an applicant a student visa within a month.”

At another agency based in a cramped, stinking building in Fazilka, close to the Pakistan border, an adviser told our reporter that students in Britain always find a way to work more than the permitted 20 hours a week.

In the Philippines, one agency offered to bolster a visa application by arranging for Filipinos already living in Britain to pose as members of the applicant’s family for $1,000 and also promised that course records could “be arranged” for a fee, even if the student had failed their exams.

The applicant would then be able to secure a place in a British college – winning 30 points required under the PBS – on the basis of fraudulent paperwork.

Agencies in China advised applicants to register with a bona fide language school or university, and then switch to a bogus college once on Britain soil, to make it easier to extend their visa.

Li Wiuling, an agent in Beijing, said: “You can change after you arrive, because the formal ones are expensive.”

She offered a “guaranteed” visa for 40,000 yuan (£3,500) and promised that anyone who failed to attend their classes in Britain faced little prospect of being discovered.

“There are so many people doing the same thing, they are all fine. There won’t be one risk out of 100,” she said.

Sources in the immigration service estimate that there are 5,000 immigrants in the London area alone who arrived here as bogus students and are working in the black economy, possibly with little intention of ever returning home.

Awareness of the Home Office’s new rules in countries such as China, Pakistan and India has led to student visa applications quadrupling in some areas, generating a global backlog running into tens of thousands, The Sunday Telegraph discloses today. Applications in Sri Lanka and Nepal are also believed to be increasing.

As consular staff struggle to process the mountain of paperwork, the backlog has reached 10,000 applications in Beijing and 6,000 in Bombay, sources told this newspaper.

The Home Office had already acknowledged a backlog of 14,000 applications from Pakistan which Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, officially blamed on computer problems earlier this year.

One source said: “Before the points-based system, Bombay was getting 150 applications a day in the peak application season but now it is getting 600 a day, which is why the backlog has gone up and up.

“At the moment there is massive abuse. The points-based system is utter nonsense and an utter farce.

“Without a shadow of a doubt you are talking about thousands of visas being issued to people who are not legitimate students and simply want to come to Britain and work.”

Insiders estimate that the visa section at the British Consulate in India has received 15,000 to 20,000 extra applications this year while in China there have been an extra 10,000.

Both the Indian and Chinese missions introduced a moratorium on new student applications eight weeks ago which remains in force in both countries. In an indication of the scale of the problem there are no plans to lift either embargo, sources said.

Last month it emerged that the number of student visas issued at Mumbai and New Delhi in India, and Dhaka in Bangladesh, was 6,771 between June and August last year, but this year the figure was 19,950.

Damian Green, the shadow immigration minister, said: “Ministers should be very worried if the new system is easier to exploit than the old one. They must act to reassure the public, and genuine colleges, that this is not another immigration disaster in the making.

“The borders agency needs to call in all applications that have come through these routes as a matter of urgency.”

A source said: “Under the old system under the Immigration Act, immigration officers could reject an application they believed was not legitimate. They don’t have that ability any more.

“As long as an applicant gets the points there is no flexibility for the entry clearance officer to reject the visa. It’s a terrible loophole.

“The government’s spin was that the PBS would make it much quicker and easier to spot false applications, but it has actually made things much worse.”

A Home Office spokesman denied there was a moratorium on applications and insisted that the rise in student visa numbers was down to the global recession and not the PBS.

Phil Woolas, the immigration minister, said: “The points-based system ensures that colleges and schools must be licensed to bring in foreign students, inspected by accreditation bodies and the UK Border Agency to ensure they are genuine, and take responsibility for their students.

“Before we tightened controls around 4,000 UK institutions were bringing in international students, this has been reduced to around 2,000.

“We continuously monitor our systems and where improvements can be made we will make them.”