Page last updated at 00:49 GMT, Saturday, 5 April 2008 01:49 UK

How UK citizenship tests are 'abused'

By Phil Kemp
BBC News

Foreign nationals are being offered ways to ensure they pass UK citizenship tests, a BBC investigation has found. Fraudsters are recruiting stand-ins to sit the tests, while one language school has been providing candidates with answers.

Alleged fraudster Tony
Tony claims he has sat dozens of tests on behalf of Chinese nationals

Since 2005, most foreign nationals applying for British citizenship have to prove both proficiency in the English language and a knowledge of British culture before their application is successful.

But an undercover journalist from BBC Radio 5 Live's Donal MacIntyre programme, recruited to sit a Life in the UK test on behalf of someone else applying for citizenship, was not detected by an exam centre.

She was also helped to cheat on an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), which is taken by applicants with no knowledge of English.

Poor English

Tony says he has sat dozens of Life in the UK tests, standing in for Chinese men with little or no English, charging more than 700 a time.

I know one girl who sat tests in the same centre every week. No one found her out

He was secretly recorded telling the undercover reporter that he has been able to get away with it because only cursory checks are made on a candidate's identity.

"With Chinese people, it's not easy for them to tell," he explained.

"Normally, they can't tell the difference so we try our best to avoid going into those test centres where there's an examiner who's from the Philippines.

"Because they are from Asia, it's easier for them to tell the difference."

The agent signed up the reporter to sit Life in the UK tests for Chinese women who had sought his help because of their poor English.

'In advance'

In just a few days, Tony had arranged for her to sit seven tests across the country to help immigrants to fraudulently claim citizenship.

He also bragged about other women's success in abusing the system.

"I know one girl who sat tests in the same test centre every week. No one found her out," he said.

The reporter passed the test and was awarded a certificate but she refused to hand it over to the fraudster.

I think someone has misled you, if you think it's a test. It's not a test
Martin Khan

When confronted with the allegations, Tony pretended not to understand and fled the scene.

For immigrants whose English is not good enough to take the Life in the UK test, the ESOL course, which offers lessons in citizenship, is an alternative route to becoming a British citizen.

But the BBC also uncovered evidence that applicants are being helped to cheat these tests.

The undercover journalist, posing as an immigrant who did not speak English, paid 300 to an agent based on London's Oxford Street to take a particular course at a college in north London.

"It's like going there and acting like you're sitting the test," he said.

"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."

citizenship certificate
The Home Office says it will prosecute if there is evidence of fraud

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

The man who told the reporter he was the college principal, Martin Khan, was filmed pointing out the correct answers for candidates.

However, when confronted, he denied acting improperly.

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

"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."

In a statement, the Home Office said: "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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