HK students face deportation over UK visa ban

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 August, 2012, 3:19am

Thousands of overseas students - including some from Hong Kong and the mainland - face the threat of deportation after the British government stripped a London university of its right to sponsor visas.

London Metropolitan University has had its Highly Trusted Status - which allowed it to sponsor visas for students from outside the European Union - revoked by the UK Border Agency for alleged procedure failings.

Its 2,000 overseas students have 60 days to enrol at another university or face deportation, according to the National Union of Students (NUS).

A third-year international relations student from Hong Kong, Donna Marie Winstanley, told the BBC she was in a state of shock.

"I'm just surprised because I phoned the university yesterday ... and I specifically questioned what was happening with the international students," she said. "I was told that only new students would be affected; but now reading around - that information doesn't seem to be right."

Immigration Minister Damian Green told BBC radio the Border Agency had found "a serious systemic failure where it appears that the university doesn't have the capacity to be a proper sponsor". He said that a quarter of the students lacked permission to stay in the country, while there was insufficient evidence that students spoke English and no proof that half had been attending lectures.

Almost 300,000 non-EU foreign students were enrolled in Britain in 2010-11.

But Green sought to reassure prospective students that "this will not be replicated across the university sector". A task force will help students whose visas are about to be revoked.

The NUS warned of "catastrophic" effects on income from overseas students, which was estimated last year to be £14 billion (HK$172 billion). It labelled the move political, linking it to promised immigration quotas brought in by Prime Minister David Cameron's government.

The university said on its website: "The implications of the revocation are hugely significant and far-reaching … Our ABSOLUTE PRIORITY is to our students, both current and prospective, and the University will meet all its obligations to them."

A Border Agency spokesman said: "The latest audit revealed problems with 61 per cent of files randomly sampled. Allowing London Metropolitan University to continue to sponsor and teach international students was not an option. These are problems with one university, not the whole sector."