Page last updated at 11:45 GMT, Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Overseas student ID cards begin

Overseas students will need to have biometric identity cards

The fingerprinting of overseas students for biometric identity cards has begun for those extending their visas.

It is the first phase of tighter visa restrictions which will eventually affect more than 300,000 people applying to study in the UK each year.

The tougher rules are intended to prevent the abuse of student visas as a way of gaining entry to the UK.

However universities will be watching carefully for any impact on what has become a lucrative source of revenue.

Students already at UK universities will not have to be fingerprinted, unless their visas need to be renewed, but future applicants from outside the European Union will all need to have such biometric identity cards.


There are universities and courses in which a majority of students are from overseas - with the higher fees becoming an increasingly important part of university income.

Sensitive to fears of deterring such valuable recruits, Universities UK has complained that there are only six fingerprinting centres around the UK which will have to be used by overseas students.

About one in seven students applying to university are from overseas - with concentrations in particular universities or courses.

The London School of Economics has 66% of students from overseas, London Metropolitan has 25%, Cambridge has 22% and King's College London has 19%.

Daniel Sheldon of the London School of Economics' student union said there was confusion among students about how the visa rules were to be introduced.

The students' union is to debate the new regulations this week - and he says there will be concerns both about singling out overseas students and wider opposition to the principle of identity cards.

From next year, universities will also be expected to monitor whether students are really attending courses.

But Sally Hunt, head of the University and College Union, says staff do not want to enter the "spying game".

The changing rules for overseas students are part of a "clamp down on bogus students", announced by the Home Office, which will see colleges having to hold a licence from the UK Border Agency.

There have been widespread concerns that bogus colleges have been providing a means of falsely entering the country - allowing people to claim student visas without really studying for any qualifications.

Almost 300 bogus colleges have been uncovered in the past three years.

The Home Office expects 50,000 to 60,000 students to be affected in the first phase between now and March.

Last year, there were 313,000 applications for student visas - of which 217,000 were issued. Existing students won't be affected unless they want to extend their visa.

From next March, overseas students will need to be sponsored by a college or university holding a licence from the UK Border Agency.

From next autumn, there will be a further tightening of the rules, in which universities and colleges will use a "sponsor management system" to inform the UK Border Agency if students are failing to attend courses.

Some of your comments:

As a student who was seriously thinking about going to the UK for university, I am simply appalled by this. I believe this program will simply bring more trouble than it is worth onto individual universities while taking biometric information from people whom are most likely not trying to break the system.

The British government is punishing everyone in order to get to the minority. Instead, they could do better research on the fake universities or use another less encroaching system than the one they plan on using.

Just as I do not hand my own biometric information to my own government in the United States, this ID card in Britain has permanently put me off studying there because I will not willingly hand over information such as that; it is a violation of my privacy and being an overseas student is no reason for such a violation.
Nathan, Michigan, USA

Nathan, whatever the rights and wrongs of this move (and with an American girlfriend who came over here initially as a student, I sympathise with you!)- you should be aware of what the US government requires of all visiting foreigners before you get too upset... I hope you do still come despite this discouragement.
Matt, Oxford, UK

I'm an American pursuing a PhD in the UK and scrambled to avoid getting this biometric card. I find it repulsive that this government requires us to pay three times what a home student pays in fees, but insists on treating us like criminals. Incidentally, the US may be wrong to collect biometric data on visitors, I agree -however, the US government seems to avoid the problems that the UK government can't avoid; namely, losing vast amounts of sensitive data.
Gavin, Sheffield, UK

I have seen too many overseas students abuse student visas as a way of gaining entry to the UK and strongly believe some changes need to be made especially for the security control. Not too sure about how biometric ID card will contribute to that though!
Richard Chen, Manchester UK

This sends a clear message to foreign students. The message is: "Don't come to the UK, we will treat you like criminals".
Graham, Dundee

There are also plans to bring in the first waves of biometric ID cards for foreign nationals getting married. I plan to marry my American girlfriend next year and start our lives together here, which should be one of the happiest things we ever do in life - and now we'll have to do so knowing that my future wife's fingerprints and retinal scans will be held somewhere on a government database. At what price freedom, at what price 'security'?
Lee Hyde, London, UK

As a current university student I found it embarassing enough that I had to report to a local police station to register. My tuition fees alone are in excess of 10k per annum, is it too much to the authorities to treat us with a little more respect and allow students to update their records on campus instead?
Sebastian, Edinburgh

As a university administrator I am delighted at the tightening of the procedures. I cannot see this being a deterrent to people committed to academic study. It will restrict economic migrants masquerading as students, people gaining entry to the UK with acceptance letters never to be seen in class or the significant minority of overseas student to whom I am obliged to provide supportive paperwork to who are along for the ride only, using their status to work in a developed country. I feel bad about providing papers for students I know are breaking their student visa privileges. Now I will feel better, helping the genuine students from all over the world who honour us with their presence.
Anon University Admin Officer, Loughborough

Good move.There are lots of so called students in london area in these bogus colleges waiting to complete 10yrs to get a Permanent residence status. All work illegally and don't attend classes except to fill fake attendance sheets. Stop them getting PR after 10yrs and the problem will go away on its own.
sam tom, aberystwyth

I think this is grossly wrong. I can't iamgine giving away my identity just because I want to go to school. If I need to work and live here, what then will I have to give - my life? I see the governemnt over-stepping their bounds and making UK education a distant thing for foreign students. The long-term impact will be felt by all and sundry. I can assure the government that this will lead to a very drastic drop in the rating of UK education all around the world
Michael, Birmingham

I just completed a Masters at Edinburgh University. It was an amazing year and I'm much richer for the experience, while the university is much richer for my overseas tuition. I loved Scotland. Thank goodness I was not required to supply fingerprints, etc. or I would never have come to the UK to study. For now, I've returned to the US, where we have the hopeful promise of Barack Obama's administration to look forward to. How interesting to find out that Bush's policies of eroding civil liberties will live on in Great Britain. Why not just call them "Patriot Cards"?
Ben, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

I am an International student from Saudi Arabia and I fully support this move. I believe that every country has the right to protect its economey and to control immigration levels. However, as my Visa will expire soon, I wonder if new visas can still be issued by mail under the old system or do new changes mean that from now on only premium service will be available?
Grami, Newcastle

It's already so hard for people from my country to get admission, then to get visas, and now they've added to the long procedures by introducing this. I don't know how we are supposed to cope with all this on top of the unfavourable interest rate and rising tuition fees!
S, Pakistan

The bigger picture is that this is the first step towards introduction of biometric ID cards for everyone. Foreign students are nothing other than a testing ground for the role out of this technology. The Church has lost its control over the population and The State needs something new to keep us all in line. Orwell was right he just got the date wrong by 30 years.
George Taylor, Edinburgh

The government's obsession with ID cards is incomprehensible. Numerous reports (including one from the LSE) have shown it is an insanely expensive scheme that will have none of the claimed benefits, penalising the innocent whilst the "guilty" ignore it.

I'd rather they spent the billions of pounds they're pouring down the sink into ID cards on something that might have a real effect on our society. How about doing something more to reduce the number of children growing up under the poverty line, or providing more resources to hospitals, schools or police on the beat?

A total waste of money, let alone a massive invasion of our privacy.
Owen Blacker, London, GB

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