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Is the new UK visa pilot scheme restricted for best, brightest students?

Since 2010, the UK has cracked down on immigration abuse from poor quality institutions that were damaging the UK’s reputation as a provider of world-class education

education Updated: Aug 17, 2016 17:36 IST
Gauri Kohli
The Tier 4 Visa Pilot Scheme, launched by the UK Home Office recently, is open to non-UK students who get admission at four varsities.
The Tier 4 Visa Pilot Scheme, launched by the UK Home Office recently, is open to non-UK students who get admission at four varsities. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The Brexit vote nearly two months ago and reports of the new UK Prime Minister Theresa May working on stricter visa norms for international students to reduce immigration, have left Indians aspiring to study in that country worried and confused. While affirming that the UK continues to welcome the brightest and best international students who wish to study in the country’s world-leading institutions, a UK government spokesperson says, “Since 2010, we have cracked down on immigration abuse from poor quality institutions that were damaging the UK’s reputation as a provider of world-class education, while maintaining a highly competitive offer for international students who wish to study here.”

Indian students are also unhappy about a recent two-year pilot visa scheme for international students, including Indians, applying for a master’s degree course in select universities allowing them to stay in the country for six months after completing their course.

Read more: Brexit impact: change won’t happen overnight, UK universities assure students

The Tier 4 Visa Pilot Scheme, launched by the UK Home Office recently, is open to non-UK students who get admission at master’s courses at Cambridge, Oxford, Bath Universities or Imperial College London. The scheme is for academic years starting September 2016 and September 2017.

International education experts say this will make it tough for Indian students to go to the UK for higher studies. According to Sarosh Zaiwalla, a UK-based lawyer, “This move is an effort to restrict student visas only to the brightest and the best. All this is a part of the UK government’s original row over whether May’s government remains committed to the target of reducing net migration to below 100,000. She has recently confirmed that she is preparing the ground for a fresh crackdown amid concerns that universities have become an easy route into Britain for migrants who want to work. Her team believes further restrictions on international students could significantly help reduce the net migration. During her stint as home secretary too, she took action to close down ‘bogus’ colleges and limit visas for students coming to the UK for further studies.”

Experts also observe that when rhetoric and action around student visas becomes more harsh in the UK, it affects the number of international students applying for a student visa. Says Carly Minsky of Times Higher Education, “This happened in 2011 when the Home Office clamped down on fraudulent visa applications and sponsorships, and in 2012 when the post-study work visa that enabled students to work in the UK for up to two years after graduation was abolished. It is highly likely that the numbers of Indian students applying to the UK will continue to decline if further visa restrictions are proposed.”

The visa process for international students, including Indian students, is notoriously strict with conditions on prior qualifications, financial situation and university sponsorship. The post-work study visa was abolished in 2012 and international students are obliged to leave the UK after completing their degree course. “However, while Theresa May has allegedly suggested reducing the number of international students in the UK, the Home Office are piloting a scheme to ease visa restrictions at four elite universities in the South of England, including Oxford and Cambridge – chosen for their low visa refusal rates. This would reduce the documentation requirements for visa applicants and allow the student to stay in the UK for six months after completing their course to find a job and apply for a Tier 2 skilled worker visa,” says Minsky.

Minsky, however, believes that a Commonwealth work visa, as proposed by mayor Boris Johnson last year aimed at benefiting Indian students, would serve the purpose of increasing the number of Indian students in the UK. “But it is unlikely to be a quick fix if other policies and attitudes do not change,” she says.