Cyprus Mail

‘Storm in a teacup’ over foreign student visas

Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos

By Elias Hazou

INTERIOR minister Socrates Hasikos on Thursday again dismissed allegations of any wrongdoing concerning an executive decision he took to approve student visas for Bangladeshi nationals with supporting documentation that was deemed suspect.

He was responding to a fresh report carried by daily Phileleftheros, which published a Foreign ministry letter, dated June 5, stating that the migration department had established that “the documents in question are forged/falsified/fake.”

The migration department comes under Hasikos’ interior ministry.

The reveal appeared to disprove Hasikos’ earlier assertion, namely, that whereas authorities were wary of the documents’ authenticity, they were unable to prove this conclusively. Given this, Hasikos had argued, his decision to approve the visas was, legally speaking, above board.

The documentation concerns the bank statement and the health certificate required of non-EU nationals applying for study visas.

The foreign ministry was being warned by the Cypriot Honorary Consulate in Dhaka, Bangladesh that bank statements being provided by several visa applicants were dodgy.

In addition, health certificates were in some cases signed off by the same Bangladeshi doctor, but bore different signatures.

The foreign ministry document refers to a number of health certificates that were printed out before the actual date of issue and the taking of blood samples.

The matter was recently brought to the attention of the Auditor-general, who forwarded the information to the Attorney-general with the request to investigate whether the interior ministry had broken the law.

The Auditor-general’s move put Hasikos on the defensive, especially after the correspondence was leaked to the media this week.

Initial press reports spoke of 800 student visas issued to Bangladeshis this year, dangling the impression that all of them were fishy.

But speaking to the Cyprus Mail on Thursday, and asked to comment on the foreign ministry document, Hasikos said the report was “misleading.”

“First of all, the suspicious visa applications were around 50, not all 800. Second, for these suspect visas we took measures to ensure that the applicants met all requirements on arriving here,” he said.

“Really, it’s a storm in a teacup,” he added.

Given the misgivings, as an additional safeguard Hasikos had instructed that these students be required to pay their college fees on arrival, as well as submit to medical tests here within 48 hours.

Backing up his account, the association of accredited colleges released a new statement with more details on what had happened.

At a meeting between representatives of the colleges and Hasikos, a solution was proposed: the persons with ‘suspect’ documentation would have their visas approved, so that they could enroll on time.

However, upon arrival in Cyprus, they would be required to have on their person cash amounting to €7,000, covering their entire tuition fees for the first year of college, and to produce this amount to airport authorities.

According to the association, all the Bangladeshi students in question produced the required cash amount and underwent medical tests, which they passed.

Under the circumstances, the association said, Hasikos’ move was the correct one, since it boosted admission of non-EU nationals, who might otherwise end up being admitted to colleges in the north.

Over the last two years, authorities have tightened control over the issuing of student visas. Non-EU nationals must now pay all tuition fees on enrolment. The €7,000 requirement is based on the rationale that someone who has that kind of cash is more likely to be a genuine student rather than an economic migrant.

Previously, the practice was to require these applicants to pay just their enrolment fee, around €1,000. After that, many never showed up for class.

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