Visas, exploding loos and Italian students: more from the annual conference
15 May 2014

The great thing about conferences is the sometimes odd mix of what you get. So in the last couple of hours we've had lunch, a session on the Italian PON scheme, and a rather lively 40 minutes with the Home Office's Jeremy Oppenheim on visas.

Jeremy is a bit of a veteran of English UK events, and is a familiar figure who is well used to awkward questions and difficult observations about the reality of visa processing as seen from the perspective of language schools.

Or as he put it in his welcoming remarks: "To be described as a friend is a real kindness…I must put in my end of year appraisal."

In a swift run through, he said 2.8m visa applications were made last year, 11 per cent more than in 2012, of which 2.5m were approved. 88 per cent of all overseas applications were successful overall.

He said that in this new world UKVI was "very clearly committed to providing an  efficient and effective services… and is listening rather than lecturing." There were eight priority areas, including speed of processing and knowledgeable staff.

There had been 1.9 visit visas last year, up 14 per cent with huge rises in some places including 42 per cent from Kuwait.

Processing times, globally, were 96 per cent within 15 working days although the average processing time was 7.5 days, although in Russia it was 9, India 8, and Brazil and China 7.

He had a lot of new visa centres and premium services to tell us about as well, before pausing for a couple of questions. These were rather probing, as he probably expected.

The first was about the no work rule for students at private schools. "That was founded on careful research which indicated that they had the highest level of risk around abuse of the immigration system for work purposes This didn't apply in the main in the university sector. That's not to say it's impeccable," he said.

A few questions later, Val Hennessy wanted to know more about this report, saying she would like to read it for herself. Mr Oppenheim responded: "If it is available you will have it but I can't understand why you would think document produced by the Home Office with care and thought couldn't be trusted... if you don't believe it implies this is not true."

At this point there was an interjection from the back: Tony Millns, who wanted to take issue. He said the 2009 document was "based on flawed sample… it took a generality of HE institutions but a small group of non compliant other institutions already under investigation for breach of immigration compliance. So it's an OK group of universities and the rest of the sector is not an OK group. When you look at the figures it's not too bad even for the non compliant group: 14 per cent were in breach,  compared for 3 per cent whole of universities." However, he said it was accepted there would be "no change on this before the election."

Other issues raised were about huge backlogs and problems in Russia – which Mr Oppenheim promised to investigate  - and about where visas were physically processed.

The morning session closed with thanks from Sarah Cooper, vice chair of English UK, thanking outgoing chair Sue Edwards for six years in the job, for her "boundless energy, wise counsel, impeccable diplomacy and extraordinary powers of persuasion."

*If you think inspections are stressful, spare a thought for those involved in the incidents noted by Hilary Parnall, chief inspector of Accreditation UK. "Disasters are life, ad we want to see how you cope," she said recalling incidents such as computers stolen (the night before) a classroom intruder, overflowing loos and a student having a "violent psychotic episode" in reception. Inspectors themselves aren't immune to problems: one was locked in the loo, another walked into a plate glass window, one broke her ankle on the school driveway and another was immobilised


























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