Aimed at preventing terrorists from coming to the UK posing as students, the points based system has been criticised by a new report for delaying and even refusing genuine students a UK visa.
International students contribute £8.5 billion a year to the UK economy and the failings of the points based system could hurt Britain dearly, with tens of thousands of students put off the application process, according to the research. The report goes on to claim that it is the errors and obstructive behaviour of immigration officers themselves which is creating this problem.
The report presents direct evidence of immigration officials – working in embassies and high commissions worldwide – failing to properly understand the new rules and refusing student visas for genuine students wanting to come to the UK. It is as a direct experience of this obstructive behaviour by officials that genuine students have been put off from applying for a UK student visa and coming to study.
And the problem of refusing genuine students from getting their visa for the UK could hit Universities hardest; overseas fees represent 8% of UK universities’ income. Refusing genuine student visas for the UK could threaten the financial health of Britain’s tertiary education sector and even threaten Britain’s international reputation for excellence.
The study questioned 2,777 UK student visa applicants between July and September, finding that 40% had experienced serious “errors or obstructions”, putting them off studying in the UK altogether. Worryingly, 10% of respondents were refused a visa at the first application, but granted on their second points based system application.
Problems encountered include being refused a visa for stating your nationality as “Nigeria” and not “Nigerian”; passports lost by staff or sent to the wrong address; and the wrong nationality stamped on forms. With these kind of fundamental errors in the points based system, it is no surprise the Government recently admitted that in the past six months alone, 23,000 international students have had to apply two or three times to be granted their visa. This is clearly a huge cost and inconvenience for genuine students as well as undermining the UK’s reputation for education and teaching.
The cost of one, let alone two or three UK student visa applications is a real turn-off to students considering studying in the UK. Two years ago, a student visa for the UK cost £99 whereas today there has been a 47% increase to £145. In fact, 17% of all students even pay a further £200 to ensure that their paperwork is in order. Fundamentally and at the heart of these problems in the student points based system process, 59% of students questioned found difficulty with the applications forms and guidance notes provided.
One student quoted in the study said: “Nearly everyone got rejected the first time because we did not choose the correct drop-down box in the online application form.” Another said: “I had my bank statements all translated into English, but two words were not translated and they forced me to spend another £60 to re-translate the whole document.”
A further 49% of students had trouble showing that they had the required maintenance funds available, although when applying for UK student visas, you are allowed to show the required funds are available to your parents or a relative under the points based system.
However, one student in the report said: “I come from a working-class family in the United States. The need to demonstrate the total funding for the year all at once was an enormous hardship and required my parents to empty out a retirement savings fund.”
Despite all these problems, it does appear that the majority of students are being persistent and remaining patient, the study concludes. But these difficulties have already impacted on the education sector, with 24% of universities missing their international student targets for 2009.
The UK Border Agency’s response to the report was pretty typical: “Whilst there will always be people who will try to abuse our immigration rules, we have robust systems in place to ensure that only those students who are genuinely coming to the UK to study can do so. The points-based system ensures that only those colleges and schools who provide quality education and take responsibility for their students are licensed to bring in foreign students.”