A new set of rules to try to prevent non-EU students and their dependents from using the student visa system to illegally immigrate to the UK has been announced this week.
This follows the suspension of student visa applications from Nepal, northern India and Bangladesh last week.
Last week’s suspensions came after a jump in applications of 11,700 in the final three months of last year in comparison to the same period the previous year, rising to 13,500 in northern India alone.
The Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, outlined that non-EU students must speak English to a level just below GCSE standard, work only 10 hours a week on courses below degree level, and cannot bring dependents into the UK for courses lasting less than six months.
Courses must also be at an institution on the ‘Highly Trusted Sponsors List’, a new register designed to catch out fake colleges. Johnson said that 200 such colleges have been closed.
“I am from North India, and this sucks”
James Pitman, the Managing Director of Study Group, the UK’s largest independent provider of international students to the higher education sector, claimed the new laws “could be sensible”, but argued, “they should be carefully considered and applied only to those countries that represent a genuine threat to national security.”
Whilst agreeing with Pitman on the potential benefits of the new laws, Jonny Medland, OUSU VP for Access and Academic Affairs, was angered by the suggestion that students from high risk countries should be further deterred from applying to UK colleges and universities.
He commented “Students need to have good levels of English to make the most out of studying in the UK but this doesn’t need to be tied to crude profiling of students from countries deemed to be threatening to Britain. Students should be treated as individuals, rather than as possible suspects.”
Medland further protested against the visa application suspension, stating, “A blanket suspension of student visas is not the right way of dealing with a complex problem – if visa applications are rising then the government needs to commit extra resources to process them.”
Visa problems are not new. Last term, many Pakistani students had problems gaining entry to Oxford and other universities due to a backlog of 5,000 people as IT difficulties left many without a passport or visa. These problems are likely only to further the disproportionately low percentage of ethnic minorities at Oxford, currently 11.1% compared to a national percentage of 14.2%.
Radhika Goyal, a first-year Economics and Management student from Chandigarh, northern India, accused the UK Border Agency of inefficiency even before the recent suspension.
“I have had horrendous experiences with visa,” she claimed, adding, “it took me two and a half months… I received it on 3rd October, one day before my flight – I had planned to come on the 28th September previously. The visa made was incorrect – the UK student ID on the visa is incorrect so I have sent it to the border agency, over three and a half weeks now, no response.
“I am from North India, and this sucks. Part of the reason I had to travel alone was because my mum couldn’t get a visa. The suspension is outrageous; imagine someone applying for autumn application. Just because numbers have risen doesn’t mean you stop giving out visas.”
In response to the new laws and the problems facing foreign students, Oxford University responded simply “The proposed measures shouldn’t deter any of our candidates.”