Britain sees a ‘forgery industry’ in Pakistan


* Sunday Telegraph investigation says thousands of ‘immigration consultants’ can arrange complete set of documents for student visas

LONDON: Forged documents used by potential terrorists to obtain student visas for Britain are easy to obtain in Pakistan, British authorities fear.

A Sunday Telegraph investigation, in the wake of Wednesday’s arrests concluded that a complete set of the required documents could be obtained.

A self-styled “immigration consultant” told the Telegraph reporter he could provide a convincing certificate for £100 “while-you-wait”. The paper claimed that a “cottage industry” has grown up to serve a huge market in young men desperate to find a way to work overseas.

Many British universities have offices in Pakistan to recruit students. At least one of the John Moores University recruits held last week obtained his visa through its Peshawar office.

Nearly 4,000 immigration consultants are thought to be operating in Rawalpindi and Islamabad alone.

Every year nearly 10,000 student visas are granted in Pakistan. Up to 20 times as many, however, are rejected.

Visa applications for students mean big money for some companies. “It is a roaring business,” said Siddiqa Awan of the International Centre for Study Exchange, whose office is located in a cramped basement in an Islamabad shopping centre. She said students would pay a £150 deposit once accepted at Grafton College

Another consultant, Major Najeeb Ahmed, said: “When I started eight years ago there were only a few consultants who had been authorised by colleges to work on their behalf. Now people who are in the property business or run grocery shops are also working for UK colleges.”

Under the prevalent points-based system, visa applicants are not routinely interviewed. Biometric checks – fingerprinting and iris scans – are made, but that is no deterrent to the so-called “clean skins” – those with no criminal record.

Many of the forgeries are crude and caught. But others are sophisticated, the Sunday Telegraph report said. Daily Times

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