Students in trouble as UK halts visa operations

By Alkesh Sharma, IANS,

Chandigarh : Some have paid their tuition fees, others have their acceptance letters in their hands. But now hundreds of Indian students may not be able to study in the UK thanks to a sudden decision to temporarily stop accepting student visa applications at its three centres in north India.

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As there is no guarantee of getting their tuition fees back, which students have already paid in some cases, the fear of losing lakhs of rupees is looming over their head.

“The admissions process is an arrangement only between the student and the college and we cannot intervene. However we hope that genuine colleges will understand this situation but we cannot play any role in it,” Nigel Casey, British deputy high commissioner, told IANS.

This indefinite suspension, put in force from Monday, was the direct result of a 10-time increase in student visa applications during the period October to December 2009, at three visa application centres of Chandigarh, Jalandhar and New Delhi.

Last year, 13,500 applications were received during this period whereas only 1,800 and 1,200 were received in 2008 and 2007, respectively.

“We will again review the situation by the end of this month. Then depending on our evaluation, we will decide when to resume accepting applications again,” said Casey.

Casey said that this suspension was necessary to scrutinize the situation and to save genuine applicants as there were some cases where people were abusing the student visa norms.

“Some unscrupulous agents mislead youth by telling them that they can easily attain PR (permanent residency) through student visas, which is totally wrong,” he pointed out.

As per official records, Britain’s visa operation in India is its largest in the world.

“I had to join a college in London in the first week of March. I have the offer letter in my hand and I have already paid the tuition fees. Now it looks next to impossible to get a visa in time in the wake of this suspension,” Hemant Moudgil, a student, told IANS.

Manish Sharma, another student said: “I had my appointment on Feb 15 at the visa application centre but this move has jeopardized all my plans. Now my money is blocked with the college and if I apply for the refund of fees, then I have to suffer a huge penalty as per college norms.”

Besides this, the British high commission also failed to save the future of many gullible students who learned about the blacklisting of their college (in the UK) after paying the fees or after reaching there.

There is no provision of any kind of transfer to some other college in the same field.

“Indian students should remain doubly cautious from corrupt education consultants and from applying to blacklisted colleges. They should approach only professional people. Moreover, everything is available online and they can easily check the credentials of a college on the internet to avoid further problems,” stated Casey.

He added: “Presently there are nearly 2,000 licensed institutions in the UK and we have a very tight system of evaluation. The UK Border Agency continuously monitors the performance of colleges. In the last few months we had cancelled the affiliations of 100 colleges, whose work was not found up to the mark.”

Manjinder Singh, a city-based overseas education consultant, told IANS: “How can they give a visa to those students who have got admission in a blacklisted college? It is not the student’s fault and the UK application centre officials should inform us about the status of the college when they accept applications from us.”

“There are many cases where students had to return to India as the college where they got admission lost affiliation in-between. It is the moral responsibility of the UK government to take care of such students,” he added.