The UK government’s decision to exclude India from a new list of countries considered “low risk”, which facilitates an easier visa application process to country’s universities, has invited backlash from Indian students who will now be subjected to intense scrutiny.
As part of changes made in the immigration policy which was tabled in the UK Parliament on Friday, the Home Office announced a relaxation of the Tier 4 visa category for overseas students from around 25 countries. This means that students from countries like China, Bahrain and Serbia will now face reduced checks on educational, financial and English language skill requirements to study at the country’s varsities.
“Students from an additional 11 countries, including China, will be able to provide a reduced level of documentation when applying for their Tier 4 visa,” a statement by the Home Office statement said.
However, Indian students applying for similar courses would be subjected to rigorous checks and documentation.
The changes, which are likely to be rolled out on July 6, were made with an aim to simplify the visa application process for international students going to the UK to study.
Condemning this latest development, Lord Karan Bilimoria, Indian-origin entrepreneur and President of the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), said, “I consider this another kick in the teeth for India… This sends entirely the wrong message to India, to exclude it from these Tier 4 measures. The government has simply got it wrong.”
Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra Beer and founding-chair of UK India Business Council (UKIBC), added, “India has always been one of Britain’s closest allies and an emerging global economic superpower. Excluding India from this list is myopically short-sighted and is damaging what has always been a special relationship between our countries.”
The National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU), UK, also expressed disappointment over the move, which it said effectively categorises Indian students as “high risk”. “It is important to note that today’s announcement makes no change to the process of application for Indian students, but it is the perception of this message among Indian students that worries us. And, this raises another question – will China continue to get even more favourable actions while India gets the rhetoric,” questioned Sanam Arora, president of NISAU UK.
When asked why India was excluded from the fresh list, a spokesperson in the Home Office said, “We welcome Indian students who want to come to the UK to study at our world-leading educational institutions. We issue more visas to students from India than any other country except China and the USA.”
The Home Office stressed that 90 per cent of Indian students who apply for a UK visa get one, a figure up from 86 per cent in 2014 and 83 per cent the year before that. It added, “In addition, the proportion of Indian students coming to study in the UK at a university has increased from around 50 per cent in 2010 to around 90 per cent in 2016. Indian student visa applications are up 30 per cent on last year. We continue to have regular discussions with the Indian government on a range of issues including on visas and UK immigration policy.”
According to latest Office of National Statistics (ONS) data, India is among the top three countries from where overseas students come in to study at UK universities, after China and the US. While Indian students registered a hike of 30 per cent to hit 15,171 Tier 4 visas last year, the numbers remain a far cry from around 30,000 six years ago.
However, the latest move by the UK government will only lead to concerns in the Indian government, given that ministers and diplomats have repeatedly stressed on the need for relaxed immigration rules for students. Last week, Y K Sinha, Indian High Commissioner to the UK, held a meeting with UK’s minister for universities, Sam Gyimah, and discussed the issue of “smoother and greater student and faculty mobility between the two countries”.
“It is unfortunate that in the last six years we have seen a steep drop (in Indian student numbers). What should be troubling universities here is that Indian students are now going in much greater numbers to the US, Australia – even France and Germany,” Sinha had earlier said.
(With PTI inputs)