Concern as student visas suspended

Eleanor Winpenny - News Reporter 7 February 2010

Last Saturday, the UK Border Agency announced the suspension of all applications for student visas from northern India, as well as Nepal and Bangladesh. The announcement comes only weeks after the Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor Alison Richard, visited India on a trip designed to strengthen the University’s Cambridge-India partnership.

The suspension began on 1st February and will initially continue for a month, although it may be extended.  According to officials, this move is due to a sudden increase in the number of applications being received, with a jump from 1,800 in the last three months of 2008, to 13,500 in the same period last year.

This sevenfold rise in visa applications is attributed to an increase in the number of non-genuine applications, and the suspension of new applications is to allow the UK Border Agency time to scrutinise applications thoroughly.

These announcements bring a period of great anxiety for students hoping to come to Cambridge later this year, as it has not yet been confirmed when the application process will open again.

Pritika Pradhan, an Indian student currently studying at Lucy Cavendish College, told The Cambridge Student (TCS): “Applying for a student visa is always a stressful, anxiety-laden experience no matter how strong one’s case may be.” The current suspension on applications will bring further uncertainty.

There are currently over 200 students from India studying at Cambridge, the majority of whom are postgraduates. Whilst most undergraduates start their courses in October, postgraduate students begin their studies throughout the year. 

The University Office of External Affairs and Communications have told TCS that they are “monitoring the situation”, although in reality there is little that they can do.

The new points based system for visa applications was introduced only a year ago, and, according to the website pointsbasedvisa.net, was “designed to enable the UK to more effectively control migration, tackle abuse and identify the most talented workers who can best contribute to the success of the UK’s economy”. However it appears that this system is now unable to process the applications efficiently.

Pranav Aggarwal, President of the Cambridge University India Society, is disappointed: “Toughening this process and making it more accurate should have been the first action the UK Border Agency should have taken instead of not accepting any applicants at all.”

Much of the increase in the number of student visa applications may be for legitimate reasons. The exchange rate from rupees to pounds was more favourable at the end of 2009 than at the end of 2008 and in the same time period there has been a sharp decrease in the number of Indians applying to study in Australia due to attacks on Indian students.

These prospective students are now being discouraged from applying to the UK, simply because the points-based visa system cannot cope with the number of applicants.

Eleanor Winpenny – News Reporter