An immigration loophole that enables people to come to the UK to work illegally while claiming to be students is to be closed, government ministers have announced.

Yesterday’s move follows concern that hundreds of small schools have been acting as a front for people to enter the UK to work illegally.

The Home Office is to tighten the registration regime governing private colleges which recruit students from overseas in an attempt to weed out the bogus institutions operating simply as “visa shops”.

Earlier this month, an investigation into the unregulated and burgeoning private college industry in Scotland by The Herald found a number of colleges based in Glasgow were advertising non-existent courses or were using logos of recognised educational and industry bodies on their websites without permission. Despite this, all the colleges were on a government list which allows visas to be issued to students who have secured a place at them.

Two of the colleges set up websites which described lavish facilities and highly specialised courses, despite being based in a rundown office block and in a private apartment up a close.

In the wake of the revelations, the Home Office’s Border and Immigration Agency launched an investigation into whether the colleges were set up purely to bring immigrants into the UK under student visas, rather than to educate them.

The investigation is ongoing, but the Home Office and the newly formed Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills in Westminster were able to outline the new regime yesterday.

From 2009, all private colleges recruiting students from overseas will be required to register with the Home Office and prove they are genuine.

Bill Rammell, Higher Education Minister, said: “Unaccredited institutions should seek accreditation as soon as possible. These improvements will mean we are better equipped to protect the UK against those individuals and colleges who want to misuse the student route of entry.”

Liam Byrne, Immigration Minister, said: “Abuse of our education system will not be tolerated. Foreign students bring in a huge £5bn a year, but migration has to support Britain’s national interests.”

The Association of Scotland’s Colleges (ASC) has been pressing ministers to tighten up the rules to prevent abuse by bogus colleges. Sue Pinder, convener of the ASC’s Principal’s Forum, said: “The ASC welcomes the UK government’s announcement. We have been calling for such a measure for some time.”

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