The British Union Jack waves in front of London’s Big Ben
Acquiring a student visa for the U.K. depends, more than ever on being well informed about the application process – and what rights that all-valuable piece of paper can offer you in return.
“There is no cap on the number of students who can study in the U.K.,” says U.K. Border Agency (UKBA) South Asia Communications Manager, Sam Murray. She says the reforms intend to root out potential abusers of the visa system while correctly identifying and encouraging legitimate students.
“These visa rules are in place to support genuine, high quality Indian students and the excellent UK education institutions at which they wish to study,” says Murray.
The 2011/2012 requirements make it mandatory, among other things, for students to:
Submit with their application a TB clearance certificate from a clinic that has been approved by the UK Border Agency (Since November 2012)
Be prepared that the only jobs they can accept are after they have completed graduation and only those offered by registered companies with a minimum salary of £20,000(Since April 2012)
Possess basic fluency in English so as to be able to converse easily and effectively during newly introduced, in-person interviews with visa officers (Since August 2010)
Tally the educational institution of their choice with a list of verified and accredited institutions and colleges approved and recognized by the UKBA(Since March 2009)
However, the recent changes have been met with some disagreement in the U.K. - ranging from a committee of MPs upset over the timing and manner of implementation of the reforms, to concern and opposition from the British Council and Universities UK, a policy organization working to lead the debate within the U.K.’s higher education system - about the message the changes are relaying to overseas students.
One of the most hotly contested reforms is the cancellation of the two-year, post-study work visa which once assisted fee-paying students from non-EU countries earn some extra money whilst studying.
Although both bodies have said they are in agreement with the need to stop abuse of the visa system, they have expressed concern over the impact of the move in deterring such students from applying and in reducing the availability to U.K. employers of a global talent pool for a range of jobs, rather than only high-skilled ones.
South Asian Students Speak Out
Students from India, past and present, are divided in their opinion on the U.K. visa debate.
A Ph.D. student in English at the University of Kent, Thirthankar Chakraborty, says he didn’t apply for the two year, Post-Study-Work-Permit (PSW) in 2010 when it was available.“I saw no point in applying as there were no relevant vacancies apart from jobs in catering, customer service staff related jobs and so on,” he says.
Although some people may think jobs available as a result of the visa could potentially earn more money than possible to make back home, such jobs are not useful for future career prospects nor do they stack up to pay off education loans, says Chakraborty.
Delhi based journalist, Arya Yuyutsu, who holds an MA in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Sheffield, says he understands why the PSW visa has been scrapped“It's a tough time in the U.K. and, even though it's against my interests, I support the U.K. government’s nationalistic stance completely,” he says.
The problem is that there are hordes of UK-born graduates who aren't getting jobs themselves, and “It is to protect their interests that the government has made these laws, to help home-grown kids get a helping hand,” says Yuyutsu.
But not all students feel the same way.
Utsav Mandadi, an MA student in Sports Management at Coventry University says the cancellation of the PSW visa is absolutely unfair. “Just because some idiots misused it before, does not mean those who are serious should suffer for it, he says.
London Metropolitan University
The reasons leading to the reforms of the visa rules also led to an August crackdown on the London Metropolitan University, by the UKBA.
London Metropolitan University
London Met was stripped of its ‘highly trusted’ status after the UKBA reportedly found a quarter of the enrolled international students it checked on, without valid visa documentation to remain in the country.
The move effectively left more than 2,000 overseas students in the lurch - they were given three months to find an alternative course or make plans to leave the U.K.
Since then, the university has won a legal reprieve by way of a High Court ruling allowing existing students, with full immigration status, to continue their studies, pending a resolution of the issue.
Chakraborty says the university debacle should not have any effect on a prospective Indian student wanting to study in the UK, assuming studying is their primary intention. London Metropolitan University was an exception, he says.
What happened there provides fair warning to international students everywhere that the U.K. is serious about their student visa requirements for anyone wanting to study there, says Chakraborty.
Both the visa reforms and the suspension of London Metropolitan University’s license are part of a larger effort by the U.K. government to bring down annual immigration numbers from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands.
However, overseas students are said to contribute five billion pounds a year, to the British economy.
So, At stake is how the U.K. is viewed by prospective international students but also the cost the country may have to pay if the measures do have a deterring effect on them.
Although the government remains confident and determined to stay the course, the impact of both measures on the numbers of foreign students continuing to choose the U.K. for study will become more evident in the coming months.
Rajyasri Rao has worked as a journalist with the BBC and the UNICEF in India and as a communications consultant for Ericsson in Sweden. She holds an M.Phil. in Sociology, from the Delhi School of Economics.