BBC Shows the Way with Undercover Program on Foreign Student Cheating

By David North on October 22, 2014

Recently a BBC Panorama program called "Student Visa Scandal", which exposed cheating in the UK's foreign student system, was called to my attention. It has two strong messages for this side of the water:

  1. U.S. broadcasters: Do some investigative reporting on immigration cheating; and
  2. U.S. policymakers: do more to keep foreign "students" from abusing our system!

The program clearly had neither of these objectives. Auntie Beeb simply wanted to show the extent to which criminal elements have flourished by helping (for a price) foreign students outwit British authorities as they seek college admissions for which they do not qualify.

It is a good show, full of concealed camera footage as the BBC exposes the skilled ways that various parts of the British admissions process are outmaneuvered by the mainly Asian students and their criminal helpers.

Perhaps the most interesting portions deal with how non-English-speaking aliens can pass a recorded audio test on their ability to handle the Queen's English. An entity licensed by the authorities to conduct the in-person tests simply hires other people with good linguistic skills to impersonate the would-be students — and then padlocks the outer doors of the facility to prevent the bobbies from raiding the place! A hidden camera shows the arrivals of both the aliens and their substitutes for the test. It is worthy of our own "60 Minutes".

U.S. television networks could easily make similar shows indicating how our immigration controls are defeated through the kind of fraudulent schemes my colleagues and I write about all the time: identity theft, phony documents, faked marriages, visa mills, and the like. Our networks, however, rarely deal with these issues.

The BBC program also shows how much more vigorously the Brits run their college admissions for foreigners system than we do. There are two variables that are crucial.

Variable One. In the United States we do not demand that incoming students speak English. In fact aliens can and do get visas to attend not only English-language schools, but unaccredited ones, as we noted in a previous blog. If a responsible university wants to screen out people with inadequate language skills, they may do so, but that's a university decision, not a governmental one.

Variable Two Who makes the ultimate admissions decision? From what I can tell from the BBC program, such decisions are made by the British government's Home Office, whereas in the United States the decisions to issue I-20 forms, which usually lead to F-1 visas, are made by the admitting institutions. That could be either Harvard or a Homeland-Security-recognized horseshoeing academy, as we reported earlier.

So, while student admission decisions are centralized in Britain, they are farmed out to nearly 10,000 institutions in the United States, many of which are fourth-rate, as we showed in an earlier blog.

Yes, as the BBC program demonstrates, there are holes in the Brit's foreign student system, too, but they are tiny compared to the huge ones we tolerate year after year.

I am grateful to a Chicago reader for telling me about the BBC program.