Fears Tough UK Visa Law Deters Overseas Students

Fears tough UK visa law deters overseas students

By Andrew Bounds and David Turner
Financial Times
Published: June 25 2009 03:00 | Last updated: June 25 2009 03:00

The UK could miss out on thousands of international students in the coming academic year because of a tighter immigration regime, universities are warning.

Applications that once took days can now require three months, according to Leeds University Business School, which has received record numbers of applicants for its courses but fears many will not arrive. Other applications are being rejected for minor -discrepancies, it said.

Universities UK, the sector's umbrella body, said it had anecdotal evidence of a problem that could cost the country millions in income from fees and student spending. Diana Warwick, chief executive, said: “We are in serious danger of sending out a message that the UK does not welcome international students.”

Overseas students make up about 14 per cent of those in full-time higher education and 43 per cent of those in postgraduate research. They contribute 8.5bn ($14bn, 10bn) to the economy, a 2007 study by the British Council found.

Ms Warwick said they also add to Britain's competitiveness and are advocates for the country when they return home.

Universities had supported the introduction of a points-based system by the UK last year to allow in only skilled immigrants and to prevent terrorist attacks. Rather than potential students being allowed to arrive armed only with university offers, leaving them free not to take up a course, they must specify the institution and show they can cover the costs of studying before receiving a visa.

However, Universities UK said local visa officers were being too picky or were not fully trained. Leeds said officials had rejected applications because they were not aware of bodies authorised to award qualifications. In some countries 85 per cent of applications were being turned down. Problems also arose because of centralised processing.

Some students would now miss essential pre-entry English courses, said Peter Moizer, dean of Leeds University Business School.

“Unless these difficulties are sorted quickly, some international students will be left stranded with no means to enter the UK,” Prof Moizer said. “The other danger is that the UK will be perceived as a 'no go' area and students will look to Australia and the US instead, losing millions of pounds of export income for the UK. The UK Border Agency needs to make some changes as a matter of urgency.”

A spokesman for a leading university said its international students were facing problems getting in because there were discrepancies between the guidance which universities had been given and that which Borders Agency staff appeared to be following.

The Home Office said the new system was “tough but fair”.