Duncan Lewis

Legal Aid

Lawyers London

English language skills for overseas students seeking visas to be assessed by untrained immigrant officers

Date: (8 August 2012)    |    

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Immigration officers who would have no formal training to assess English language skills of foreign students could bar them for lacking good enough knowledge of English.
Students who have already passed approved language tests and have applied for visas to study in the UK could be stopped from gaining place at colleges or universities if immigration officers decide that their English was not good enough.
As part of the campaign to stamp out bogus applicants entering UK new powers have been granted to staff at visa offices around the world coming into effect on 30 July. This is intended to create new line of defence against bogus applicants but students could be failed by staff with no formal training to assess the language skills.
Announcing the rule change last month, UK immigration minister Damian Green said greater power to refuse bogus students and with more interviews the government would weed out abuse and protect the UK from people who circumvented the system.
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) said it expects to interview 14,000 students applying for Tier 4 student visas over the next 12 months which is more than 5% of the 250,000 expected applicants.
The interviews are to be targeted at students from countries having the high rate of history in abusing the system and who were applying to institutions that are not on the UKBA's "highly trusted sponsor" list.
The agency says that its officers will ask applicants questions about their immigration and education history, study and post-study plans, and financial circumstances.
The candidates being interviewed must be able to "demonstrate without the assistance of an interpreter" that their English meets the level of the test certificate they have submitted. Failure to do so, and failure to attend interviews, will result in their application being rejected.
But the UKBA could not provide inputs on how the interviews would be conducted and what training its officers will receive to assess ability.
Mike Milanovic, chief executive of Cambridge Esol, which produces a number of the tests of English approved by the UKBA, says immigration staff will need specialist skills. Speaking is possibly the most challenging skill to assess. Even when it is carried out by very experienced language teachers, you still need to provide them with specialist training and very detailed instructions.
He added that an extensive system back up was needed to deliver a fair and reliable assessment which needed training. The UKBA recommends that staff seek advice from local British Council offices, but the council could not say whether it has been asked to provide language assessment training.