Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-117)|
WOOLAS MP AND
2 JUNE 2009
Q100 Mrs Cryer: It is related. My
understanding is, and I have got masses of information on this,
that the ability to provide evidence of knowledge of English to
get indefinite leave to remain is also being exploited by people
selling documents to say that a person does have English when
they actually do not, so there is a really growing cottage industry
Mr Woolas: It is a wider subject,
Chairman, and I made reference earlier on to UKBA's ability to
predict and be ahead of the game and that is the area that I had
in mind when I made those remarks. The fact of the matter is that
people go to desperate lengths to get into this country. We had
an intelligence report recently that some people were chopping
their fingertips off in order to avoid fingerprint detection as
part of a people trafficking ring. That was reported in the Sunday
newspapers two weeks ago and it was a true story. It never ceases
to amaze me the lengths to which people will go to try to get
into our country, and clearly the attempts to cheat on the English
language test are now part of the attack upon us and our robustness
in protecting ourselves from that is strong. It is of course in
the regime straightforward to test somebody's ability to speak
and write English. We have got the Citizenship Bill this afternoon
in second reading and this will come up in that debate, but I
think you know, Mrs Cryer, from our part of the country that there
is a cottage industry that is attempting to abuse that system,
and we are determined not to let it.
Q101 Tom Brake: Once an organisation
has been officially registered as a sponsor organisation, what
sort of on-going process is there going to be to ensure that it
remains a bona fide organisation and do you use triggers
in the way that credit card companies do that highlight strange
patterns, in other words an organisation that issues 100 student
visas but only has three teachers or premises above a fish and
Mr Woolas: There are short-term
and long-term answers to that question. The longer term is of
course the student visa overstaying. If there is an intention
to abuse the immigration system then that will express itself
at the end of the period of the visa through overstaying. In the
short term, Jeremy, do you want to add?
Mr Oppenheim: We use a whole series
of triggers, including the number of students, the courses being
offered, physical location, and reports from visiting officers.
We will continue to visit. We do not just license and then say,
"Thank you very much, it was nice." We do follow-up
visits on a regular basis. We have got a sponsor management system
due to be rolled out in September 2009 which is an on-line system
which will give us an increased level of intelligence of the nature
you just described, Mr Brake.
Q102 Tom Brake: You mentioned the
unannounced visits. Can you give us a couple of examples of what
these have revealed?
Mr Oppenheim: They have revealed
colleges that when visited the first time had students, teachers
and all the technology one might come to expect in a small establishment
operating legitimately and when we visited again we found none
of those things there at all. As a result they did not get on
the Tier 4 licence.
Q103 Chairman: You have seen the
concerns of Baroness Warwick from Universities UK about the ASIC
and the fact that there appears to be a lack of transparency on
its website, a lack of list of inspectors, and a lack of lists
of those colleges which have been accredited. She has written
to this Committee only yesterday to say she first raised these
concerns with Liam Byrne in July 2007.
Mr Oppenheim: If I may, Minister,
Baroness Warwick was clearly busy yesterday because I met her
as well. She has raised those issues. We are reviewing together
with Ofsted the accreditation bodies. Most of the accreditation
bodies' contracts are up for renewal in June of this year and
we will be saying to the accreditation bodies not only do we want
you to be doing the process of accreditation really well but we
want you to publish on your website the outcomes of your visits.
We want to make sure that you are far more transparent and that
will be part of the contractual expectations that we place upon
Q104 Chairman: How much do you give
these accreditation agencies every year?
Mr Oppenheim: Forgive me for not
having the figure at my fingertips but I am more than happy to
write to you about the amount we spend.
Q105 David Davies: I misunderstood
the answer to an earlier question. I assumed all of the visits
to the 1,600 institutions were unannounced but obviously not.
How many institutions have received unannounced visits?
Mr Oppenheim: I cannot give you
the answer to that, Mr Davies, because I do not know, and the
number will change week by week as we do more unannounced visits.
Q106 David Davies: Roughly how many
out of 1,600?
Mr Oppenheim: I would guessand
I apologise because I do not like guessing in committeesthat
around 10% would have experienced an unannounced visit. They will
all have had an announced visit as well because there is no point
in doing an unannounced visit unless you have already visited.
Q107 David Davies: Of that 10% that
received an unannounced visit, how many were found to be operating
in an illegitimate fashion or raised further concerns?
Mr Oppenheim: That is a very difficult
question for me to answer, not because I am trying to be secretive
but because I do not have those sorts of figures with me. We can
easily get them.
Mr Woolas: Do not forget in terms
of the 1,600 we are talking about that includes the mainstream,
that includes Cambridge, Durham and so on.
Q108 David Davies: Presumably Cambridge
University would not have required an unannounced visit?
Mr Woolas: I have thought about
it but no!
Q109 David Davies: How many people
have been prosecuted under the Immigration Act for the offence
of facilitating commissioning of a breach of immigration law by
a non-EU citizen?
Mr Woolas: Again off the top of
my head I have not got that figure but I can get that figure for
Q110 David Davies: Would it be a
handful, a dozen?
Mr Woolas: I can give figures
on removals if that is of any help.
Q111 Chairman: Removals of students?
Mr Woolas: Let me just find the
figures. To answer the question, the last set of published figuresand
it covers all prosecutions in England and Walesfrom Control
of Immigration: Statistics 2007 (and figures subsequent to this
have not yet been published), in total there were 253 cases presented
to magistrates' courts in England and Wales between 2003 and 2007
and there were 518 cases sent to trial at crown court in England
and Wales in the same period. Some of those were of course the
Q112 David Davies: And how many were
Mr Woolas: They are not all complete
yet so it is not possible to say. I am being very careful because
of the caveats on the statistics of which I have been advisedsome
of them have not yet finished.
Q113 David Davies: Would it be possible,
Minister, for you to come back with further information?
Mr Woolas: I would quite like
to know myself.
David Davies: And perhaps on the number
of unannounced visits and the numbers that were found to be operating
in an illegitimate fashion.
Q114 Chairman: The concern of this
Committee is that many of us have very large immigration caseloads,
as you do Minister, and we have genuine cases we put to ministers
and we write to the Border Agency, and then we look at these huge
figures of people coming in as bogus students and that is what
prompted this inquiry, our real concern about people coming to
this country in a fraudulent manner to pretend to study here and
at the same time the genuine cases that form part of an ever increasing
backlog of the Border Agency are not being dealt with. That is
why this Committee is concerned.
Mr Woolas: Chairman, It is not
an ever increasing backlog, it is a diminishing backlog and it
is diminishing quite quickly.
Q115 Chairman: Mr Prosser is raising
this point because of course only last week he raised a case with
you and your Department where the file went missing and answers
were promised and they were not given. I do not want to raise
this particular case because we can all do it, but what we are
concerned about is that those who try to come genuinely are not
being admitted but tens of thousands of bogus students are coming
to bogus colleges in England and Wales and the first we have some
action is when a reporter in The Times newspaper decides
to have an investigation.
Mr Woolas: Chairman, I do not
accept that on behalf of the Government. I think it is the past
tense, I think it is "had been". I was very upfront,
as was the Home Secretary, in saying that we had recognised that
this had been an Achilles heel, or a loophole, call it what you
will, and that we are taking measures to close those loopholes.
The Times article is part of that process and it exposed
what the consequences of previous policy were, which I readily
admit, and I have said this both as a backbencher and indeed as
a Minister on many occasions. I think that the new Prime Minister
put in place a new policy.
Q116 Chairman: Finally on the issue
of Ministers in the Home Office, not in respect of anything that
is going to happen this week, we have expressed our concern previously
about the absence of one Minister on maternity leave. She is of
course entitled to maternity leave but the Committee felt very
strongly because of the workload of your Department that there
should be another Minister in there. The other Minister who covered
for her has stepped aside two weeks ago. We seem to be struggling
with Ministers in the Home Office at the moment. Is there any
reassurance that this matter is going to be plugged in the near
Mr Woolas: That step aside is
temporary and I understand that period will end very shortly.
I am coping. Thank you for your concern.
Q117 Chairman: We are very concerned.
Mr Woolas: The number of PQs and
letters from Members has not diminished. On a lighter note compared
to DCLG it is not half the workload!
Chairman: Minister, Mr Oppenheim, thank
you very much. The Committee will now sit in closed session to
consider one issue. Thank you very much.