Taking a cue from the American and the Australian governments, the British Government has now made its student visa rules stringent so as to guard against bogus universities and 'two-room colleges' in the United Kingdom.
Also, in its bid to make its borders more secure, the British Home Office and its Border Agency will attempt to make sure that only genuine students can avail of the country's academic resources and benefits.
However, while the UK Government says that this would make the student visa process 'simpler, more objective and more transparent', most of the students and education consultants in India are wary.
In their quest for a brighter future, every year thousands of Indian students fly to the UK. But the recent visa curbs have made the process quite scary. So as to allay their fears, RMS Atwal spoke to Dan Chugg, First Secretary, Press and Communications at the British High Commission in New Delhi and India's well known UK Student Visa and Immigration Expert, Peush Jain.
Excerpts from the interviews:
Could you explain how the visa rule process is simpler, objective and transparent?
Dan Chugg: Legitimate students have no reason to fear the new arrangements for student visas. Tier 4 of the points-based system makes it much clearer what is required of students in order to qualify for a student visa. There is one set of guidance used by applicants and visa officers. It is comprehensive and sets out what evidence the applicants need to provide when they apply for a visa. The decision making is objective and against set criteria -- set out in the guidance which can be found at: www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/studyingintheuk
Applicants need to pass a points-based assessment and accumulate a total of 40 points. Thirty points come with a Visa Letter issued by a licensed education provider in the UK and 10 points from showing that they have enough money to cover course fees and living costs.
The Visa Letter is an unconditional offer of a place to study from the education provider. It shows that the institution is confident that the student is capable of doing the course for which he or she has applied and accepts responsibility for the student while studying. It also includes information about the student, the course and the documents submitted which led to the offer of a place. The maintenance requirements and evidence of the funds an applicant needs to show are set out clearly in the guidance.
Tier 4 will, however, make it more difficult for those institutions and applicants who intend to abuse the immigration processes from doing so. The measures that will prevent abuse include:
Peush Jain (Student Visa Expert): Any change is always scary when it comes to visa rules and especially for aspiring overseas students, who expect the rules to become tougher for them. As a pleasant surprise to us, the Tier 4 of the points-based system is very transparent, simple and reliable for students simply because now they would have to show only three things -- student's educational documents, proof of legitimate funds and visa letter from the institution in the UK. If the student has all of these, he/she need not worry and just needs to concentrate on his/her studies.
Moreover, licensed institutions in the UK are now under the strict scanner of authorities, which should really give an added confidence and assurance to students and their parents on account of course studies and fees paid. The new rules have made bogus institutions out of picture. Only license-holder institutions which adhere to new laws are allowed to issue visa letters. Institutions are now responsible for background checks, required documents and courses offered, before issuing the visa letter. Now they will have to take full responsibility of the student while he/she is there in the UK. The new visa rules have made things much easier for prospective 'genuine' students in India. The UK visa process has now become simpler, streamlined and less cumbersome. Not to forget, the authorities in the UK will also benefit a lot in keeping an eye on students and institutions.
How do you respond to the perception that the Tier 4 of the points-based system goes against the interests of Indian students?
Dan Chugg: Not at all. Tier 4 applies to all international students. Every year, UK Visa Services in India issues more student visas than the previous year. Last year, we issued almost 29,000 student visas -- about 30 per cent more than in 2007. We have every confidence that this trend will continue as the UK is a fantastic place to study. Tier 4 will support this trend because it makes the visa process more straightforward for students. Let's be clear -- we want Indian students to study in the UK, and we now have a better visa process to support this.
Peush Jain: The Tier 4 is for all students coming from non-European Union countries and India is no exception. Indian students will soon be able to savour the benefits of this new visa system, and compared to those of other countries I think this process is very simple and transparent. With the number of students leaving India for overseas education increasing every year, Indian students have become a hot commodity in the international student market. Every country wants to increase their share of this multibillion-dollar pie. This change will see a sudden surge of students opting to pursue their studies in the UK.
Many Indian students prefer Australia to England because of an easy Permanent Residence (PR) process. How will the new rules affect students' permanent settlement in the UK?
Dan Chugg: Time spent studying in the UK does not count towards permanent settlement, but we do not believe that this is the only reason why students want to study in the UK. There are other reasons, in particular the quality and international reputation of the education and the experiences that the UK can provide. Although it does not count towards settlement, a student may be eligible to apply for permission to work under the Tier 1 (post study work) for two years following successful completion of his or her studies in the UK. Further information is available at https://www.gov.uk/apply-uk-visa
Peush Jain: Students looking for permanent settlement on the basis of their studies do choose Australia over the UK as Australia has clear pathway to PR for a student. This is missing in the UK though there will be hope for some of them who can change to Tier 1 options once they complete their studies and get a regular job in the country following their course completion. However, UK education has more acceptance internationally and this will prompt students to study in the UK for reasons other than PR.
The new rules may check bogus institutions in the UK, but what about fake student visa consultants in India?
Dan Chugg: Under the new rules, only education providers in the UK that are registered as licensed sponsors can recruit international students. This provides reassurance to good students who want a high-quality education from a reputable institution. It also prevents unscrupulous institutions and those who would seek to abuse the immigration process from doing so.
Applicants do not need an agent to apply for a visa. But if they would like assistance, then they should choose an agent carefully. In India, Visa Services and British Council have been working together to select, train and accredit student agents. These agents are entitled to refer to themselves as "Trusted Partners" of the British High Commission or British Deputy High Commissions. Their details, together with other education agents, can be found in the Agents Zone on the British Council's website: www.britishcouncil.org.in
It is important that applicants do not submit false information or forged documents when they make their visa applications, as this will result in the visa application being refused. It could also result in future visa applications to the UK being refused for 10 years. Regarding fake consultants -- fraud is a criminal offence. Anyone with any information about fraudulent visa consultants should inform the police.
Peush Jain: Students in India or elsewhere are smart enough to make an informed choice. Being net-savvy, they can refer to authoritative websites or institution websites, to find out which agents claim to represent in India. I would like to advise prospective student visa-seekers to furnish all true information to the institution of their choice and provide only legitimate documents. Once done, I am sure they won't face any problems abroad. We are there to clear their doubts and apprehensions or in understanding the new visa laws. Also, the Indian students have an option to refer to various UK bodies like the UKBA, UK visa, British Council, etc, and cross-check their agent's credentials.
RMS Atwal is a Ludhiana-based Freelance Journalist and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.