Beware of fake agents, UK tells Indian students

Charu Sudan Kasturi

New Delhi, Oct. 20 -- Indian students applying to study in the United Kingdom should stay clear of "unscrupulous agents" who are using increasingly varied strategies to dupe applicants, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) has warned.

The UKBA - Britain's immigration authority - has also decided to bar agents from collecting passports and other documents on behalf of applicants at the end of visa processing, from October 10.

"The UKBA wants to ensure the safe and secure return of documents to visa applicants," a British High Commission official told HT.

Thousands of Indian students each year find themselves trapped in a complex web of misleading agents, poor regulations and dubious universities that leaves them in debt, and often on the wrong side of the law in a foreign land, as reported by HT in a three-part series earlier this week. After the US, the UK draws most Indian students, followed by Australia and Canada. For some, the journey begins with attempting to lie to immigration authorities while seeking a visa.

"Do not be misled by unscrupulous agents into thinking that it is acceptable to submit forged documents with your visa application," UKBA regional director Thomas Greig said. Applicants caught cheating using forged documents are barred for 10 years from applying.

From claiming that they have contacts within the UKBA, the British High Commission or VFS-Global, its commercial partner, to pointing applicants to fake websites designed to look official, agents are using increasingly complex strategies, the UKBA has warned.

The new warning by UK authorities comes at a time when visa rules enforced from this year have drastically cut student visa applications to that country by 30%, with many students opting for universities in other countries. But British authorities have in recent years also come across increasing instances of visa fraud from Indian applicants.

About 750 Indian students studying at London Metropolitan University (LMU) face an uncertain future after the UKBA withdrew the varsity's license to admit students from outside the European Union.

The UKBA, after a probe, concluded that some of these students may not have been entirely honest in their visa applications, and that LMU was not enforcing attendance requirements for international students.

Bhavin Shah, an Indian settled in the UK, was arrested and sentenced to a four years and nine months prison sentence for forging documents to support visa applications from Indians keen on coming to Britain and extending their stay in the country.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.