UCL row over email stating immigration check fine of £20,000 | UK news

A row has broken out over University College London’s enforcement of immigration controls for international students, with staff and students accusing the senior management of pursuing draconian and discriminatory policies.

The dispute comes after UCL advised lecturers to carry out random spot checks on students’ identity documents, and one of the university’s leading faculties warned that staff who fail to report those in breach of the terms of their visa and immigration requirements “may be liable to a £20,000 personal fine per case”.

In May the university’s student immigration compliance team issued guidance to lecturers that stated they should monitor international students’ attendance through “spot checks based on face-to-face verification, as well as checking registers for signs of abuse and challenging suspicious signatures”. It added that “acceptable spot checking methods [include] checking the IDs of a sample of students”.


The policy also required academic supervisors to meet postgraduate students in person once a month, including during the summer holidays, unless the student is on study leave.

Separately, an email sent earlier this month to academics and administrative staff at the Bartlett, UCL’s faculty of the built environment, warned that a £20,000 fine for failing to report immigration breaches by international students would be deducted from a lecturer’s “discretionary account”, which provides financial support to research staff and also covers expenses for conferences, travel and training, purchasing equipment and computers.

The threat came amid concerns that 63 students at the Bartlett School of Environment, Energy and Resources had failed to provide sufficient evidence of their attendance, according to the UCL branch of the University and College Union. A member of staff warned in an email that “this could have significant consequences for [the students]. If UK Visas and Immigration takes action against any of them we may also suffer reputational damage.”

Both warnings concern the monitoring of international students from outside the European Union’s single market and Switzerland, also known as Tier 4 students.

Under the “hostile environment policy”, pursued by the government since 2010 to make living in the UK as uncomfortable as possible for illegal migrants, universities are required to inform the Home Office of any breaches in an international student’s visa or immigration status.

A spokesman for the UCL branch of the University and College Union (UCU) said staff and students across the university had written to the president and provost, Prof Michael Arthur, expressing their dismay with the tough immigration controls.

The spokesman said: “Staff in other departments have received stern emails threatening “draconian measures” against staff failing to comply with the monitoring of international students.

A survey published on Wednesday by UCL’s student union found 83% of 400 international students who responded felt the university’s visa compliance regulations were discriminatory. The union said students have been threatened with being reported to the Home Office if they fail to follow the procedures.

Mark Crawford, an officer at the students’ union, added: “These new visa compliance procedures are absurd, unnecessary and academically illiterate. They’re turning our lecturers into border guards, and we’re calling on them to be reviewed urgently.”

Postgraduate student Javiera Sandoval, who is on a Tier 4 visa, said: “The amount of stress and anxiety caused by having to run around to get people to sign in my attendance is absolutely horrible and it’s having a serious impact on time I’d rather spend doing my work.”

Sanaz Raji, an independent researcher and founder of the campaign group Unis Resist Border Controls (URBC), which obtained the email about the threatened fines, said there was an atmosphere of fear about immigration controls in many universities.

She added: “The fact that UCL is using threats to force lecturers to comply is telling. It creates a culture of fear and a punitive educational environment. Overseas students are under enormous surveillance and monitoring and that impacts on their mental health and studies.”

UCL said that the email about the fines was sent in error and a retraction of and apology for the policy was sent to staff on Wednesday.

A spokeswoman said the immigration spot checks were withdrawn in June and she was not aware that they had ever been used. But she added that the requirement for students to meet their supervisor once a month remained.

She said: “To meet our Tier 4 Visa monitoring requirements, we are required by UK Visas and Immigration to have engagement monitoring systems and processes which facilitate attendance at timetabled teaching events to be evidenced and non-attendance to be followed up and acted on in a timely manner.

“This includes evidence of both weekly engagement for those students undertaking undergraduate study or the taught elements of a postgraduate programme and monthly engagement for other students engaged in non-timetabled studies.”

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