UK announces major changes in student visa sys

New Delhi: In what could be a setback to many Indian students aspiring to study in Britain, the UK government has announced a major overhaul of the student visa system, tightening the entrance criteria and the post-study work route.

There will be restrictions on work placements on courses provided by non-university sponsors, Chris Dix, Regional Director, UK Border Agency today told reporters here, maintaining that new rules are to prevent abuse of the student visa route by unscrupulous agents.

Apart from ending the current system where graduates are able to do jobs of any level including unskilled work or no job at all for two years, the visa changes also include provision for work for students only from publicly funded universities and educational colleges while the remaining students would not have the right to do so.

"In future, they (graduates) will have to secure a skilled job with a tier-two sponsor," Dix said.

Explaining further, he said that graduates will have to get jobs that are of their level and also with firms that are registered with the authorities to hire overseas employment.

As per figures given by the High Commission, 41,350 student visas were issued from here in 2010 while the figure was around 57,000 in 2009 and about 27,000 in 2008.

According to officials, UK is expecting a drop of about 60,000 to 70,000 global student visas being issued by it.

"The changes announced yesterday (in London) will protect the interests of high quality Indian students wishing to study in the UK. These changes are however bad news for all those students, institutions and unscrupulous agents who have tried to abuse the student visa route," Dix said.

The changes will be introduced in stages over the next 12 months, he said.

The level of English speaking has also been raised from the current requirement of B1 level to an upper intermediate (B2) level for degree courses.

Moreover, UK Border Agency staff can refuse entry to students who cannot speak English without an interpreter and who, therefore, do not meet the required minimum standards, he said.

Also, only post-graduate students at universities for longer duration than 12 months and government-sponsored students will be able to bring their dependents. At the moment, all students of long courses are able to bring dependants.

Another major change that could affect Indian students is that all educational institutions in UK that want to be sponsors will have to become Highly Trusted Sponsors by April 2012 and become accredited by statutory education inspection bodies by the end of 2012.

The current system does not require this and has allowed too many poor quality colleges to become sponsors, Dix said.