Page last updated at 20:02 GMT, Friday, 4 April 2008 21:02 UK

School 'helps citizenship cheats'

By Phil Kemp
BBC News

Foreign nationals are being helped to claim British citizenship by cheating in citizenship tests. A BBC undercover reporter filmed a language school giving the candidates answers to an English test in advance.

People holding citizenship certificates
Language schools were found to be giving test candidates the answers

Since 2005, most people applying for citizenship have had to demonstrate proficiency with the English language and a knowledge of British culture.

English speakers can take a Life in the UK test to qualify for citizenship.

Immigrants whose English is not good enough are provided an alternative route to citizenship.

The English for Speakers of Other Languages course of lessons includes citizenship as part of the curriculum.

The Home Office suggests between 150 and 200 hours of tuition, depending on the candidate's knowledge of English, ending with a test.

It's like going there and acting like you're sitting the test
London-based agent
But one language school coaches candidates through the test in a single afternoon by providing them with the answers and teaching them only how to pronounce them correctly.

Hattie Zhao, posing as an immigrant who did not speak English, was quoted a price of 900 by an agent based on London's Oxford Street.

She was told: "It's like going there and acting like you're sitting the test. You don't have to do anything. It's not possible for us to just make out a certificate for you. You've got to go there and we've arranged everything for you there."

At the London College of Business and Accountancy, based at Tottenham Hale in North London, she and about a dozen other candidates in the room were coached in how to pronounce pre-scripted answers for a recorded listening and speaking test.

Martin Khan, who introduced himself as the college principal, was filmed pointing out the correct answers for candidates.

But when confronted by BBC Radio Five Live's Donal MacIntyre programme, he denied this.

We believe that citizenship should represent a gold standard
Home Office

"I think someone has misled you, if you think it's a test. It's not a test," he said.

"What really happens is that people come for the registration and induction programme and we go through with them what is required in the test and we go through the old papers."

The Home Office has said it takes the integrity of citizenship tests "very seriously" and has asked for immediate access to any evidence of fraud.

It said in a statement: "We believe that citizenship should represent a gold standard.

"We work closely with awarding bodies and regulators to investigate any allegations that we receive, and will press for prosecution where evidence comes to light of any attempt to gain or facilitate British citizenship though fraudulent means."

Citizenship for Sale can be heard on BBC Radio 5 Live's new investigative series presented by Donal MacIntyre on Sundays at 1900 BST or afterwards at the Donal MacIntyre website.

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