International students in Scotland are being subjected to Communist-style surveillance in universities as a result of the UK government's crackdown on immigration, according to critics.

Academics claim that under new rules they are forced to carry out the work of the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) against their will to monitor students.

Students say the new visa conditions imposed by the Coalition government amount to a caste system that discriminates against certain nationalities, causing stress and humiliation among the international student community.

The Tier 4 system for international student visas applies to all people from countries that are not part of the European Economic Area or Switzerland.

The tougher rules were introduced to prevent abuse of the student visa system but opponents say they are discriminatory, stressful, expensive and bureaucratic.

Under Tier 4, educational institutions which act as visa sponsors must adhere to strict conditions, and conduct background checks on foreigners and monitor student attendance.

Once a student is reported to UKBA they can be stripped of their visa and ordered to leave the country within 60 days. Critics of the system include Dr Jan Culik of the University of Glasgow, who grew up in the authoritarian Communist state of Czechoslovakia.

He said: "Lecturers have to report to the university administration several times during semester whether Tier 4 students attend classes.

''The most characteristic feature of the communist system in Eastern Europe before 1989 was that there was no pluralism, no clear blue water between institutions. You, as part of the system, were expected enthusiastically to support it, or at least to appear to do so.

''It was a criminal offence to be seen not to be enthusiastic about the regime and its policies. A similar principle is now used in the United Kingdom.

''While formerly, checking on immigrants was the exclusive work of the immigration authorities, now the Home Office is expecting the university lecturers to do the work of immigration authorities on their behalf.

''Some of my colleagues have, rightfully, even though somewhat ironically, requested border guard uniforms."

Under the Tier 4 it is up to individual universities how they monitor students to meet their obligations to the government.

Strathclyde University counts every class as an attendance "contact point" and if a student misses 10 in a row without a valid reason they are reported to UKBA.

At the University of Glasgow, taught students are registered once every three weeks and if they miss two in a row without reason they are reported to UKBA.

Some students said they were too frightened to take any days off sick.

There was also criticism of the fact that some international students must report to police on arrival in Scotland, including many from the Middle East, North Africa, Latin America and the former Soviet Union. But Chilean and Mexican students do not have to register with police.

After being interviewed, students are given a police registration card and warned that if they do not return the card, or change address without notifying police, they can be fined up to £5000.

Students from "low risk" countries under Tier 4 do not have to register with police, including those from wealthy Western states but also Japan, Botswana, Malaysia and Oman.

Beatriz Estrada, a University of Glasgow student from Mexico, said: "It doesn't feel nice that you have to sign, and that if you don't go to class or something they think that you are a, I don't know, a criminal or something.

''Your government is paying a lot of money for your education, which the UK receives for the universities, for people studying from other countries.

''So I think that they should just make something easier. I know it's hard because there are a lot of immigration rules and they are a country which receives a lot of foreigners, and they have to have very high standards, but I think they can do it more humanely, because it's inconvenient for them and it's inconvenient for us.

''It's not like they're doing us a favour, it's a mutual thing. I think that overall they should change it."

In March, 160 academics from across the UK signed an open letter to Universities UK - a coalition of British universities - opposing their decision to work with the Tier 4 monitoring scheme.

London Metropolitan University temporarily lost its status as a highly trusted visa sponsor after it was found it was conducting insufficient checks. UKBA alleged that many students at the university did not have leave to remain in the UK and that monitoring of class attendance was insufficient.

A spokesman from the University of Glasgow said: "The University of Glasgow works very closely with UK Visas and Immigration to ensure that all visa requirements are adhered to, including monitoring of attendance and ensuring that students are properly engaged with their studies.

''The university prides itself on the excellent experience that we offer our international students and we try to ensure this happens in a way that causes the minimum amount of disruption to those affected."

A spokeswoman for the University of Strathclyde said: "International students make an enormous contribution to universities and wider society, and we are proud to welcome students from more than 100 countries to our campus. As a university with highly trusted sponsor status, we comply with Home Office regulations on visas."

UKBA declined to comment.


Nichaphat Tubtimhin (main picture), 23, a Glasgow University student from Thailand, said she had to provide 13 documents in order to obtain a visa. She said: "I feel it is not easy to apply a Tier 4 student UK visa because they have many processes to approve your qualification.

"Also, it takes quite a long time for receiving a visa, and in my opinion the UK visa fee in Thailand is very expensive. It is approximately £300.

"I still do not understand why we have to sign in our classes almost every three to four weeks. It is not necessary to repeat doing the same thing."

Erol Guliyev, 29, a Glasgow University student from Azerbaijan, said: "Police registration costs £30 to £40. You go on time, and then you have to wait another hour, or maybe more. You fill out a form there, with information about your course. Only certain nationalities have to register with the police. It's not really fair, because when you look at the countries which are there - Qatar, Saudi Arabia - I don't really understand the reasons behind this nationalities policy. I think it's a very vague policy, police registration. I don't really see the logic."

Guliyev said attendance monitoring is very controversial. ''For Glasgow University [monitoring] the attendance is not really important. But the UKBA keeps monitoring and checking on students through this policy. If the University of Glasgow does not consider it important, why does the UK Border Agency keep monitoring students? I don't get the point."

He added: "[The police] say that once you leave the UK, or if you are going to be out of the UK for longer than three months, you have to return your registration card back to the police station. If you don't they can fine you up to £5000. As far as I know, many students do not return it.

"So this police registration does not really monitor the students. If you're not able to monitor it, then what's the purpose?"

Batuhan Sarp, 24, a Glasgow University student from Turkey, said: "My visa cost $497 (£290). I had to supply citizenship records and family income, and proof of possessions like having a flat or car. If I didn't have a scholarship I would have to show them my bank account and it's supposed to have a lot of money in it. It's also a bit arbitrary.

"First of all, you have to make a reservation [with the police], you have to do this within eight days of your arrival. I called to make a reservation in September and the police told me to come to the station in January.

"You just go there and there's another interview there. Fifteen minutes again. We waited an hour or more. And there were many other people there - Brazilians, people from Arabic countries. The police were very nice. But the visa regime is very ridiculous. You apply for a student visa, you are asked for $500 - from a student - and you're asked to have to have a lot of money in your bank account. As a Turkish person I felt awful, because it's an EU-accession country. It's very humiliating

"It's just unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles. I am a student [and] after I finish my studies I will go back [home]. So why are they so nervous? University of Glasgow has taken me as a student, I have a scholarship from Erasmus Mundus so I doubt I am a threat. It was just very humiliating.

"But apart from that, the British visa application is not so awful. I have been through worse. The American interview was long and also arbitrary, there is no way you can know whether you will get it or not. It depends on the mood of the person. In the Polish one I was shouted at."

Beatriz Estrada, a Glasgow University student from Mexico, said: "I think the most important thing to say about the [visa] procedure is that it is very stressful. I mean, it's so expensive. A friend of mine had to pay for her visa three times, because the consulate wouldn't take the investments, with daily withdrawals, as proof of funds, even though she exceeded the amount she had to prove. No-one with that amount of money has it in a savings account. It's absurd.

"It doesn't feel nice that you have to [register at university], and that if you don't go to class they think that you are ... a criminal or something. Your government is paying a lot of money for your education, so I think that they should just make it easier. I know it's hard because there are a lot of immigration rules and they are a country which receives a lot of foreigners, and they have to have very high standards, but I think they can do it more humanely - because it's inconvenient for them and its inconvenient for us. It's not like they're doing us a favour, it's a mutual thing. I think that overall they should change it.

"I hear a lot of comments about the university. Specifically saying that the professors don't like acting in the role of police. They are just professors - why would they have to check in people, when that is not their role? I think the university is really helpful; I think they would understand if you were ill or if you had a good reason for not going to classes.

"All these kind of things make the process frustrating and very stressful, because when you get to the country you still feel like someone is watching you. I don't even know what it would feel like for someone who has to go and register with the police. I think it's just kind of humiliating."