Visa alert on thousands of students
More than 1,500 foreign students are being reported to immigration officials each month over suspicions concerning their visa status in the UK, figures have shown.
Universities and other sponsors of international students reported at least 27,121 migrants to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) in the 18 months leading up to August last year, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act showed.
Study is the most common reason for migrants coming to the UK, with three in four of the 228,000 who arrived for study last year coming from outside the EU.
Ministers were accused in July of rushing reforms aimed at tightening restrictions on student visas.
The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee warned the Government's reforms aimed at cracking down on abuses of the system could cost the economy £3.6 billion in a "worst-case scenario", including loss of tuition fees and visa fee income, as well as a reduction in students and their dependants able to come to the UK.
The Manifesto Club campaign group, which obtained the figures, said the stringent visa controls were forcing UK academics to spy on their own students, eroding academic autonomy and damaging relationships between students and staff.
In its Students Under Watch report, the group said: "Universities are reporting large numbers of international students to the UKBA. The agency asks sponsors to email any suspicions about students; each notification can include information about several students."
Between March 2009 and August last year, the UKBA received 27,121 notifications from education providers, the equivalent of more than 1,500 a month.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said: "The relationship between staff and students is an incredibly important one that is built on trust and must not be jeopardised by fears that lecturers may be spying on students. Successive governments have had plans to turn lecturers into spooks overwhelmingly rejected by the academic community."
A UKBA spokesman said: "There has been widespread abuse of the visa system for too long and we have made radical changes in order to make the system more rigorous and accountable. We expect education providers who are sponsoring foreign students to make the necessary checks."