62 per cent drop in UK student visas

London: Amidst toughening of its student visa regime, UK government today announced that there had been a "record" 62 per cent drop in student visas being granted in the first quarter of 2012.

The drop came even as British universities continued efforts to ensure that recent changes to the student visa regime did not deter Indian and other non-EU students.

"Our tough new rules are now making a real difference with a record 62 per cent drop in student visas in the first quarter of 2012, and overall falls in work visas, family numbers and people settling," Immigration minister Damian Green said.

He added: "As these policies start to bite we are seeing an end to the years when net migration was consistently on the rise".

Green was reacting to official figures released today that indicated that net migration remained at over 250,000 despite the commitment of the David Cameron government to bring it down "from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands".

Green`s announcement of a drop of 62 per cent in student visas in the first quarter of 2012 was made as a group representing 134 higher education institutions in Britain dismissed reports that there had been a "national drop" in the number of student applications from India.

Insisting that UK continued to welcome genuine international students, a spokesperson of Universities UK (UUK) said that it was too early to say how recent changes to the student visa system had affected international students since the academic year begins in September-October.

The spokesperson said: "Currently, the impact appears to vary from university to university, with some reporting a drop in applications from India for the coming academic year (2012-13), while others report that applications are holding firm."

"We are still in the middle of the applications process for the next academic year and the key time will be in the coming summer months…In the long-term, the message must be heard, loud and clear, that the UK continues to welcome genuine international students," the spokesperson added.

Until the recent changes to the student visa system, student numbers from India coming to study at UK universities rose every year.

Official figures show that there was an increase of 1.5 per cent in the number of Indian students – from 38,500 to 39,090 – between 2009-10 and 2010-11.

The spokesperson said: "Application rates from India have continued to increase in recent years and we hope that that the figures will show this next year as well…There have been a number of changes recently to the student visa system which have now taken effect. So after a period of instability we can now focus on attracting students from India and elsewhere to our world-renowned universities".

Britain faces stiff competition mainly from Canada and Australia to attract high fee-paying international students. The challenge has increased as changes to the student visa regime in the UK have been reported widely in countries such as India and Nigeria.

The post-study work visa that allowed Indian and other international students to work for two years after completing their courses was scrapped in April 2012, but post-study work opportunities are now available for new applicants under a new category (Tier 2).

UUK has warned Prime Minister David Cameron that universities could lose between 5 to 8 billion pounds every year due to the restrictions put in place as part of plans to curb visa abuse and net immigration.

Prof Eric Thomas, chairman of UUK, says in a letter to Cameron that in China and India, Britain is seen as "putting up barriers to entry", and added: "The UK seems to be telling the world that it doesn`t welcome international students".

Several institutions such as the British Council and the Institute for Public Policy Research have urged the government to review the restrictions on international students.