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'UK student visa rules transparent, quicker now'

August 31, 2009 08:51 IST

Of late, the United Kingdom has emerged Indian students' top choice when it comes to choosing an overseas study destination. The country's new immigration rules may be a strong deterrent for fake students and fake colleges but certainly a boon for genuine students.

"Students must study at a UK education institution that is registered with the UK Border Agency as being able to recruit international students, and also meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules," advises Dan Chugg, First Secretary (Information), British High Commission, New Delhi.

We also spoke to Kamal Kumar Bhumbla, CEO of India and Canada-based BN Overseas Educational Services, who threw light on the wider ramifications of the new immigration rules in context to Indian students.

Excerpts from the interviews:

Some Indian students find the new UK rules somewhat scary and cumbersome. How would you allay their fears?

Dan Chugg: Under the new rules, students need to pass a points-based assessment under Tier 4 of the points based system. The student needs to accumulate the necessary points from possession of a Visa Letter and showing sufficient funds to cover the course fees and living costs. Students must study at a UK education institution that is registered with the UK Border Agency as being able to recruit international students, and also meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules. Comprehensive guidance on Tier 4 can be found at www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/studyingintheuk. It is important to read and follow the official guidance.

Kamal Bhumbla: In this age of the Internet, students should make an informed choice of a country and course. Students should apply for their visas in good time and have their Visa Letter and original supporting documentation assembled. Applications can be made up to three months in advance of intended travel. If a student would like additional assistance, they are advised to choose an education consultant carefully.

We hear that the new rules have given more powers to the UK Border Patrol Agency. They can refuse entry to even a valid visa-holder. Is it true?

Chugg: Under Tier 4, any institution that wishes to recruit international students must be registered with the UK Border Agency. The number of institutions eligible to recruit international students under Tier 4 has more than halved since the regulations were tightened. Education providers benefit from being able to recruit students. It is therefore important that they provide a high standard of education to those students and also share the responsibility of ensuring that the students comply with the conditions attached to their stay in the UK.

Under Tier 4 arrangements, the education institution gives the student a Visa Letter which shows that it is confident that the student is capable of doing the course of study for which s/he has applied, this includes English language proficiency. It is important for the student to check the English language requirements for admission. It may be necessary to provide a formal qualification such as IELTS or TOEFL as proof of language ability.

Bhumbla: Since every foreigner has to go through a border-check and if an officer from the UK's Border Patrol Agency is not satisfied with the information given by the student/visitor, they have the full authority to deport him. The authorities have become stricter now because it sometimes happens that as soon as a student crosses the border s/he forgets that s/he is a student.

Yes, it is true that even if a student has a valid visa s/he can be denied entry into the United Kingdom if s/he fails to satisfy officers at the border. Needless to say, they make sure that only a genuine person is crossing the border. The student has to be able to prove himself/herself a genuine student at the airport itself. If s/he can't reply to questions in English, s/he will be sent back.

How difficult or easy is the student visa application process now?

Chugg: The UK student visa application process is a transparent and objective process and the visa requirements are set out clearly, which helps student applicants. The process is also a rigorous one. The application form needs to be completed fully and all requisite supporting documentation must be supplied. The submission of false information or documents will lead to the visa application being refused and the applicant will risk a 10-year ban on travelling to the UK.

In addition, under Tier 4, a student needs to study with an education provider that has been vetted and registered by the UK Border Agency. The education provider has responsibilities to ensure that the student attends the course and complies with the terms of his/her visa. The student visa ties the student to a particular institution and if the student wishes to change they will need the permission of the UK Border Agency.

Bhumbla: It is always advisable to seek some professional help while preparing your student visa application. The UK is looking for genuine bona fide students with a good academic profile and having good English language skills. All the educational institutes in that country are looking for students who either have good percentage in English or have passed the IELTS examination. Their chosen course in the UK should match their basic studies here in India. Moreover, their family should have a strong financial background to match the study and living expenses of the student in Britain. All deserving students can get there student visas. Yes, it is easy if you fulfill the requirements of the High Commission.

Do you think our students are comparatively safer in the United Kingdom?

Chugg: Britain is a diverse society -- ethnically, racially and culturally. We value greatly the role played by the British Indian community in the UK. Their presence has contributed to a dynamic economy, provided crucial skills and new ideas and helped improve our public services and enrich our cultural life. The global economic downturn has inevitably created new pressures and new challenges. But it has not changed our fundamental view on the long-term benefits of migration for the UK. The British Government is committed to supporting stronger and safer communities.

In recent years we have strengthened both the legal framework against race discrimination and the criminal penalties for offences such as incitement to racial hatred and for racially or religiously aggravated assault and criminal damage. In a July 2003 Policy Statement, the Crown Prosecution Service gave a commitment to prosecute racist and religious crime fairly, firmly and robustly. This sends a clear message that people will not get away with threatening, violent or abusive behaviour.

Bhumbla: Our students are quite safe in the United Kingdom, thanks to strict laws and regulations. The police over there are ever vigilant against anti-social elements and does not tolerate violence of any kind. Moreover, traditionally Indian students have been going to England for decades now. We would like to advise our students to mix with foreign. We need to assimilate ourselves into their culture for all-round personality and social development.

(RMS Atwal can be reached at rajatwal55@yahoo.com)

RMS Atwal