Monday, March 4, 2013

UK Student Visa Amendments – How it Impacts International Students

The UK is a great place to study, work and settle as it has one compared with moving to other European countries, regardless of similar living standards and working conditions: the language - English. The international language of business and trade is taught in most schools and higher educational institutions around the world. Students planning to move to abroad for higher education will discover that every city there has at least one university and all universities possess large numbers of international students who move to the UK from all around the world. Yet things have not been the same lately.

The process to obtain an UK visa has been heavily criticised in the past two years as the British government has set up stringent rules to filter alleged fake and unworthy immigrants, which shockingly affected major contributors like India, Pakistan and the Middle East. The British government's review of its visa rules and regulations, it was not enough to send Indian and other international students looking at other possible destinations, and the shutting down of many English institutes contributed to the downfall. Up until 2010, student visa share for the UK declined by 6% and in April 2012, the UK closed the Tier I Post Study Work (PSW) visa for new applicants leaving many international students and dependents without jobs in the UK. The UK Border Agency confirmed that further changes in visas will lead to fewer visa applications.

Act I – The Home Secretary’s Proposal – Changes in Immigrant Visa Procedures (March 2011)
The UK’s Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced a programme to root out abuse of visa system, focusing especially on high-risk countries.  According to her many unwanted fake immigrants tend to apply for visa and enter the UK, stay and work which seems to contribute to the economy’s downfall. She instructed the consular staff to interview potential students, check, verify and detain and reject visas of suspicious applicants who lacked to communicate effectively in English and hinder the chances to enter the UK. She called the alleged suspicious applicants as “bogus students" and said that they should not be allowed to enter the UK.

On 22nd March, 2011, the UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced extensive modification to Tier 4 student route for migration. She said that from April 2012 all institutions/universities/colleges looking to sponsor foreign students would have to be authorized as a Highly Trusted Sponsor by the UK Border Agency and should be inspected by an approved educational oversight body. Theresa May said "So I can announce that, from today, we will extend radically the Border Agency's interviewing programme. Starting with the highest-risk countries, and focusing on the route to Britain that is widely abused, student visas, we will increase the number of interviews to considerably more than 100,000, starting next financial year. From there, we will extend the interviewing programme further across all routes to Britain, wherever the evidence takes us. I believe this new approach will help us to root out the abuse of British visas, and improve the integrity of our immigration system."

Miss May further added "If you can speak English, and you can get a place on a proper course at a proper university, you can come to study in Britain. We are also clear that student visas are not a backdoor route into working in Britain. We are clamping down on that kind of abuse. Colleges have lost their right to sponsor foreign students. Bogus students have been turned away. And, through more and more interviewing, we are getting better at identifying and rejecting people we don't want to come to Britain."

The Home Secretary denoted that higher immigration has caused the increase in housing demand and thus causing an increase in house price in the UK. She quoted this as an important factor of inflation and the strict visa procedures to reduce immigration as the only potential measure."One area in which we can be certain mass immigration has an effect is housing. More than one-third of all new housing demand in Britain is caused by immigration. And there is evidence that without the demand caused by mass immigration, house prices could be 10% lower over a 20-year period. Facts like these need to be carefully considered, and I look forward to seeing the results of the work we're doing in the Home Office, but I think we can already be confident that mass immigration puts pressure on infrastructure and public services."

Act II – Reaction to the Home Secretary’s Proposal (April 2011 – December 2012)
Boris Johnson, The Mayor of London, heavily criticised Theresa May, for faulting the arrival of immigrants and accusing their presence as the contributing factor to the increasing property prices and adding to Britain's housing crisis. Mr. Johnson said that he is unable to understand the Home Secretary’s comment on reduced house price when immigrant intake is reduced and controlled. Mr. Johnson said: "I don't think it is sensible to say to keep down property values we should keep people out, or investors out, in order to allow property values to decline. That would lead to a fall in the equity of everyone and, for the life of me, I cannot see the logic. He further added saying "We should crack down on illegal immigration and, yes, Labour failed to get hold of the problem. But the number one issue amongst Indian businessmen [who are considering investing in Britain] is: 'Are you hostile to us coming to London?'"

Miss. Dandridge stated that British institutions have raised concerns over the drastic drop in international student intake which was the outcome of the British government’s rhetoric dialogue on stopping and removing immigrants. She said "What universities are reporting to us [is that] they are seeing significant drops, particularly from India, from Pakistan and now from China and Saudi Arabia. These are countries that send large numbers and also they are important countries in terms of international engagement and industry engagement, so we want to be promoting and fostering relations with them, not erecting barriers. They bring connections that reap dividends in financial and cultural and social terms way into the future. By all manner of measures our universities are very strong and powerful international brands. This is a very important matter … this is mission critical for universities and indeed for the country."

Oxford University advised potential prospective Indian students not to avoid coming to the UK to study because of tough new visa rules. Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor Andrew Hamilton warned that removing the post-study work visa may stop International student enrolments. International students, out of Europe bring around £9 billion to the British economy and Indians are the sixth largest group of International students at Oxford.

Arghya Sengupta, a postgraduate law student and president of the Oxford Indian Society told BBC "Given the fact that one of the major incentives is the opportunity of getting work for at least some period of time, I think that the post-study work visa being banned as a blanket rule perhaps may be slightly too drastic."

In 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to reduce the net level of immigration to the UK to fewer than 100,000 before 2015 election. An Institute for Public Policy Research report on December, 2012 suggested that the goal would be missed.  Miss. Dandridge said that universities had been pressing to exclude international students from net migration figures, a position she said had been supported by five parliamentary committees that have scrutinised the issue.

Mark Harper, the Immigration Minister, acknowledged the international contribution made by international students to the economy and said that UK’s reputation should be maintained while effectively managing the immigration procedure. He said "The UK's education system is one of the best in the world but to maintain this reputation it is vital that we tackle the abuse of the student route, while making sure Britain remains open for business. Too many institutions were selling immigration not education and since we have tightened our rules over 500 colleges have lost the ability to bring in international students." The UK experienced a 23.5% and 16.9% drop from India and Pakistan respectively during 2011-2012 intakes.

Act III – The Impact and Outcome of Immigrant Visa Amendments (March 2012 – January 2013)
Amidst reinforcing the student visa regime, the UK government in March, 2012 announced that there has been a "record" 62% drop in student visas granted in the first quarter of 2012. The fall was inevitable even though many British institutions took measures to ensure that the recent changes to the student visa did not discourage Indian and other non-EU students. As predicted the UK projected itself as unwelcoming and unfriendly. Many Indian, South Asian and Islamic students discouraged by the country’s new visa rules turned to UK’s competitors and one of them being the US which was also equally unwelcoming of Indian, South Asian and Islamic students but now seems to concentrate to incur as much as money  possible through international students intake.

The number of Indian students travelling to study in the UK decreased for the first time last year, students blaming the stringent changes in visa rules. At a recent education fair in Mumbai early last year many British universities along with their competitors were present at the event making up almost half of the hundred or so exhibitors and representatives from universities like Durham, Cardiff, Nottingham, Lancaster and York were all seated behind tables, waiting for their sales pitch.

Students present at the fair, stayed away from stalls setup by British institutions. They feared that money invested in applying for a UK visa is risky. Many students reacted and responded to BBC when asked about the visa change saying that they are extremely discouraged by the way Britain looks at prospective students and may be a decade ago Indian students looking to study in the UK might have felt hopeless but since there are other better countries that are welcoming and friendly they are striking off and blacklisting Britain. Some also expressed concern over the cost of living in the UK claiming that higher education in the UK for most of them “was never a proper option”, that Britain “is so expensive” and that staying and studying there is “going to be difficult”. Jonathan Fernandes, a student said "The UK was never a proper option for me because everything is so expensive there and everything is going to be difficult for me later on because I am funding it through my parents, so I'd prefer Canada."

21 year old Prachi Bhatt, who held a lot of prospectus for Australia, Canada and none for the UK said "I know the educational standard of the UK is very renowned, so I would have preferred that, if the visa system hadn't been changed, I want to study, work and maybe settle abroad, and that's why I went for the other countries, because of the issues.”

Anup Surendranath, a Student said “prospective students could easily be drawn to top universities elsewhere in the world. People want to go abroad, at least from India, for better work opportunities. If it's not the UK it's going to be other countries and other countries are more than willing to attract students from countries like India.”

Act IV – The Present Scenario – David Cameron and His Proposal (February 2013)
After the drastic decrease in international students’ intake, taking a severe and a harsh downfall in monetary international student contributions and becoming infamous among the majority of Indian, South Asian and Islamic students; Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron sought to fix the repercussions and change the perceptions about the UK. On 18th February, 2013 he arrived in Mumbai, India to mend ties and reaffirm that the UK is not unwelcoming and unfriendly towards Indians by saying that there will be “no limit” on the number of students from the country who can come to study at educational institutions in the UK and there will be no cap on the length of stay and work in graduate-level jobs after qualification.

Though the past two years have been challenging for international students and Indian students in particular to study in the UK, the British Prime Minister made no official announcement about any relaxation in the visa process for students by the UK Border Agency, part-time employment for undergraduate students and dependants. Many students expressed disappointment that Britain’s Prime Minister did not address higher education issues and has been persistent in not amending the visa procedures.  Mohit Agrawal, a final year student at Delhi University said “There was nothing new. I had hoped that Cameron would strongly woo Indian students by offering alternatives to the post-study work visa. But these concerns were not addressed.”

Britain has always welcomed and still welcomes prospective and potential immigrants even though the Home Secretary went off track in regards to the stringent student visa process and the Prime Minister not addressing anything pertaining to it.


Author Bio:

Ajay Sathyan, content writer, works at Uniguru which is an integral part of Hotcourses, a company that maintains websites that provide information to students who aspire to study abroad. Uniguru helps Indian students make an informed choice on which institution to pick while studying abroad!.


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