Indian students to the UK: Welcome or not?

Over the years, universities have been making a beeline for India, to woo students to take up studies in the United Kingdom. International students from India and other non-European Union countries contribute nearly £4 billion every year in fees alone to UK universities, according to a report in The Guardian. But recent reports of delays in issuing visas to students have got education providers in the UK greatly worried. Universities are welcoming Indian students, but the UK Border Agency does not seem to be waiting with open arms to issue visas.

All set but nowhere to go
Mukul, a brilliant chemical engineering graduate from Bangalore, was packed and ready to leave for London, to pursue a master’s degree in a prestigious university. While he waited for his visa, which he was told would come in 15 working days, Mukul gathered information about the country and its ways. He got reams of material, thanks to agencies like the British Library, and hundreds of useful websites. On the 15th working day, in mid-September, he got an sms alert from VFS (Visa Facilitating Services), saying his application documents had been dispatched by courier. The next day, he got his documents promptly, with his passport which bore the fact that his visa application had been rejected.

In tears, Mukul read the lengthy rejection letter from the British High Commission, and learnt that the visa letter sent by his university ‘had not given enough details’.
“How could they do this? How could a 150-year-old college have made this mistake? How could the British High Commission not approve a letter sent by such a great institution?” wailed the boy, whose rejection letter also said that he could not appeal to the authorities. The only recourse was to reapply, with a fresh letter from his college. Not only did he have to pay the steep visa fees of Rs 12,500 for a second time, but he also had to wait for the college to reopen after the vacation to get a letter.

Where’s the disconnect?
‘Map out your future’, ‘Spread your wings’, ‘Experience UK’ are just some of the warm invitations that Indian students get. For many students like Mukul who have gained admission to universities in the United Kingdom, it is a harrowing time.
Why are visas being rejected? Why is there a delay in processing applications?
Students are partly to blame. In spite of clear instructions about which colleges to apply to, how to fill forms and so on, many students still apply to and get admission into dubious institutions. Many students, in their anxiety to get to a college in the UK, submit fake certificates. (Sometimes, the reasons for this are as innocent as having lost the original certificates. Often, it is because the student has either not qualified or is attempting to get in through dubious means.)
According to sources, South India sends the maximum number of students to the UK. The Chennai office handles applications not just from the four southern states, but also from the Union Territories and Sri Lanka.

Will new system help?
The new student visa, Tier 4 of the Points-based system, is expected to make the visa process simpler, more objective and more transparent for applicants and prevent abuse of the immigration system.
Towards the end of September, the British government also amended its visa requirements for students.

From October 1, 2009 for all Points-based system Tier 4 applications made outside the UK, the amount required to meet the maintenance criteria has to be held in the student’s personal or parent(s)/ legal guardian(s) bank account for a minimum period of 28 days prior to making the visa application. Earlier, students had to show the required funds in their account only for one day, the day on which they submitted their application.

One could beg or borrow to show the magic figure in your account for just a day! When the rule was changed, students rushed in thousands to the VFS offices across the country to beat the October 1 deadline, and the offices were forced to close down for a day.

Help is at hand, but…
The Education UK department at all British Library centres is most useful and helpful. Information is provided to prospective students to ensure that the best possible match is made between students’ requirements and the range of courses available in the United Kingdom. The centres stock UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) application forms and standardised British Council division application forms that are accepted by nearly all UK colleges and universities. What they do not provide is visa help. While there are some events held at the British Library to answer visa related questions, officers are kind and polite, but their answers are non-committal.

While the stringent rules and the seemingly heartless ways of the UK Border Agency may be giving applicants and their families a hard time, it has to be remembered that the reason for the rules is to make the UK a safe and enriching place for students from all over the world.

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