Visa processing problems have prevented Pakistani students from taking up their places at Oxford this term.

Difficulties related to IT systems prevented the UK border agency in Pakistan from swiftly dealing with the applications over the summer. 5,000 people are caught up in the backlog, whilst a further 9,000 appeals against visa refusals are pending.

Pakistani student Razi Farooqui was due to begin his MSc studies at Oxford this term, but is currently stuck in Pakistan without a passport or visa. “Right now I should be a student at Oxford University. My classes started two days ago, but I am unable to attend, because I am stuck in Pakistan with no visa and no passport.

“I was informed by the university that they have deferred my admission until October next year, meaning I’ve lost a whole year. The university has been very supportive – they kept sending faxes and emails to the British high commission asking them to grant me a visa. God knows what is happening, but I know one thing – it shouldn’t take three months to check details that can be easily verified.”

Engineering student Murtaza Murad, based in Islamabad, has yet to receive his visa. His tutors at oxford have given him until 21st October to take up his place.

Oxford University Pakistan Society President, Qasim Raza commented, “I think the Home Office should be extremely ashamed of not being able to rectify the problems that are causing these insane delays in visa applications. Two months should be more than enough to sort out the IT problems that the home office said they were facing. They have to take this matter very seriously.”

An Oxford University spokesperson said, “The Student Information and Advisory Service is available to provide advice and assistance to any student who is having problems obtaining a visa.

“The UK Border Agency has admitted that there have been serious problems with the processing of visas for students from Pakistan this year due to problems with IT systems. The University is aware of a handful of cases where Oxford students have been caught up in the backlog and is working with the UK Border Agency to resolve these as swiftly as possible.”

The fact that visa applications must be made so close to the time of departure also seems to be affecting the speed of the process. Vice-President of Oxford University Pakistan Society, Ayyaz Mallick, commented, “One thing that has played a big part is not being able to apply for visa until 4 weeks before visa. This wasn’t the case when I applied four years ago.”

Home Secretary Alan Johnson visited Pakistan at the start of the month to discuss “counter-narcotics, crime and counter-terrorism”, but such is the fury over the applications backlog that the two-day visit threatened to be overshadowed by the visa row.

A spokesman for the UK Border Agency said, “During his visit to Pakistan Home Secretary Alan Johnson assured the Pakistan Government that the UK Border Agency is committed to providing an efficient visa service to its customers and is working hard to reduce visa processing times. He said he recognised and regretted the distress that had been caused to legitimate applicants due to IT problems experienced during the summer.

“We have introduced tough checks around the world for anyone applying for a visa to enter the UK, with applications checked for fraud and forgery, with individuals fingerprinted and checked against a range of watch-lists.”