In an interview with RMS Atwal, Mr Jaspal Singh, MD of Caan World Consultants, a reputed student visa consultancy, sheds light on new UK student visa policies.
With the United Kingdom 'suspending' students' visa applications from northern India in its bid to tighten immigration rules for students, and reports of 'bogus' colleges pulling down their shutters, some Indian students planning to fly to that country seem to be having second thoughts about studying in the UK.
Also, some student visa consultants rue the fact that the UK Border Agency, responsible for securing the United Kingdom's borders, has taken some bogus colleges off its list just 'all of a sudden'. Consequently, overseas students are finding themselves in a soup when they reach there.
"It was quite painful to see some colleges struck off the UKBA list in the morning, after we had completed all visa formalities for our students to attend the same institutes the previous night," says Mr Jaspal Singh, managing director of Caan World Consultants, a reputed student visa consultancy in Jalandhar. "Consultants, students and their parents are all suffering as a result of the UKBA's action."
Excerpts from an interview:
After Australia, our students are now a little scared of going to the UK. Who do you think is responsible for their plight?
Sacrificing quality over quantity, our students have gone in hordes to these two countries during the last couple of years. While it wouldn't be fair to blame anybody as such for their present plight, I must say that it is only the 'non-serious' students who are suffering as a result of lack of jobs in the present recessionary phase the world is passing through. Genuine students, who are financially secure with their relatives and friends helping them, are least affected by the present crisis.
Students are still going to the UK and Australia, though the number has gone down in the recent past, thanks to the adverse publicity. I am quite optimistic that the situation will surely improve in the days to come. After all, traditionally India has very good ties with these two countries.
Don't you think the UK's 'No IELTS' (International English Language Testing System) policy has proved counter-productive for Indian students?
Yes, to some extent. Though education consultants have made a fast buck as a result of students' 'No IELTS' migration to the UK, it would have been better had the students exercised some caution. They have chosen to go to England -- the number one English-speaking nation in the world -- with little knowledge of English! How can you live and work in the UK without knowing English?
The result is all before you. No wonder some of our students are languishing in the cold there and some are coming back dejected. My heart goes out to those boys and girls who have been left high and dry today, after spending loads of their parents' hard-earned money.
Is it true that the British High Commission will soon stop issuing visas without IELTS?
Yes, keeping in view the present crises, don't be surprised if the British High Commission makes IELTS compulsory for a student to embark on a UK trip. In a way, it will be good for them in the long run. It will benefit everybody and lead to a secure future for them. Chances are they will also make a higher band requirement for a study visa.
As a reputed education consultant, do you see any silver lining (changes of rules) in the UK's student visa policy?
Yes, from February 22 onward, some changes are due. From this date onward, students will be issued Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS) numbers instead of visa letters. It may be noted that a CAS is a unique reference number, not a paper document, and will be issued from the IT system -- the Sponsor Management System (SMS). Institutions will be able to see the status of the CAS they issue and can check whether they have been used in an application to the UKBA (UK Border Agency). Under the new rule it will be mandatory to issue the CAS to all applicants. Following this change, education providers will no longer be able to issue visa letters.
Don't you think the UK High Commission is justified in being extra-vigilant against fraudulent documentation and taking extra time in issuing visas?
Yes, they are, in view of the present scenario. After all, they don't want an Australia type of situation in their own country. Strict screening of documentation is the need of the hour. This will help the visa officers immensely in weeding out fake students whose only aim is to to set foot on UK soil and vanish forever. The UK Border Agency is ever vigilant to guard against such 'students' who are out there to tarnish the image of genuine overseas students in that country.
What advice you have for our students thinking of flying to the United Kingdom?
I must say that our students should clear the IELTS with a good band score before even thinking of flying to the United Kingdom. They should also avoid fraudulent documentation, because if they are caught they won't be able to apply for any UK visa in future. Our students' only motive should be to concentrate on their study courses and avoid working more than the allotted 20 hours. Remember, their part-time work money can't support their studies. And, last but not the least, those students who can't afford foreign study should not pester their parents for the same. Though student loans are easily available, foreign education does cost a fortune these days.