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UK Must Rethink Student Visa Rules

THE UK government has made changes, applicable from July 6, to its student visa rules which are discriminatory to students from India applying for admissions in UK universities. Student visas have been granted by the UK government so far under what it calls ‘Tier 4 Visa’ category. Visas under this category are given to an applicant who fulfills four requirements.  One, he or she is 16 years of age or older. Two, he or she has been offered a place on a course. They must have a letter from the institution where they want to study notifying their selection for admission to the course. Three, the applicant must prove their knowledge of the English language by passing a secure English language test (SELT). The SELT tests applicants for knowledge of English in reading, writing, listening and speaking for CEFR (Common European Framework for languages) level B1 or B2, depending on the study sought. Four, the applicant must show proof of having enough money to support themselves and to pay fees for the course. They have to submit a bank slip, bank statement or certificate of deposit that shows they have held enough money to cover their course fees and monthly living costs for up to 9 months.

Although the UK government grants Tier 4 visa to students from all countries, it has divided the countries into two lists into ‘low risk’ and ‘high risk’ categories. Normally ‘risk’ is a word a nation today associates with terror, but the UK government uses the word for Tier 4 visa in terms of the risk of the student not leaving the country after study and staying on as an illegal immigrant either doing an unrecorded job or not doing any. Till now India was in the ‘low risk’ list of countries. From July 6 it will be out of it. The UK government has announced a new ‘low risk’ list of 25 countries which contradictorily includes Bahrain, Serbia and Pakistan but not India. The exclusion of India – from an expanded ‘low-risk’ list – means the applicants for student visas from this country are going to face tougher tests for their educational, English language skill and financial support requirements.

The Theresa May government has done this obviously to hit back at the Modi government for its refusal to sign a bilateral memorandum of understanding to deal with the illegal migrants from India. Feelings against immigration have been growing deeper in the UK, as in other nations of Europe. The Theresa May government is trying to address a popular concern. However, in doing so, she may be hurting the interests of her own country. It is true that in education, the UK has been the first choice of Indian students. You can explain it in many ways: centuries of colonial connection, the pride of attaching a degree from the UK to one’s titles, the facility with the English language and one or more relations or family friends already being in the country in a job or business. The UK government does not have money to support educational institutions, and hence it consciously marketed its attraction as a country of temples of learning to get students from abroad to join courses to support those institutions. And the number of students from India studying in the UK just went on rising. It reached a figure of 60,000 in 2010. However, since then the number has been declining, reaching about 10,000 in 2016.

The Theresa May government move to make student visa tougher for Indian applicants is therefore unwise. Rather than tightening the visa rules for Indian students, her government needed to relax them in order to have more of them studying in their institutions and paying partly for the running of those institutions. There is already a clear trend of the UK’s global market share of international students declining, compared with other countries. During the past five years, the UK registered ten per cent fall in the number of international students, while the USA saw a growth of ten per cent, Australia of eight per cent, Canada of 11 per cent and Germany of seven per cent. The Theresa May government needed to take innovative steps such as making the student visa regime more liberal to address and stem the decline. The UK government has to go further than liberalising the student visa regime for India and other countries: it has to relax restrictions on students seeking employment in the UK after completing their studies. Otherwise, despite having reputation for a world class higher education system, the UK temples of learning will get a diminishing number of international students.

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