UK student visas


by Rumbold
30th January, 2010 at 9:59 pm    

After a large surge in student visa applications from northern India, Bangladesh and Nepal, potential students from these areas will not be allowed to apply for visas for the next month (at least). The decision came after visa applications increased tenfold, leading to fears of widespread fraud and a large backlog:

The director of the legal advice firm, London Immigration Advice and Appeal Services, Harjap Singh Bhangal, says a temporary suspension will prevent illegal immigration, but it will also adversely affect genuine students. He told the BBC: “It’s going to create a panic and we don’t know when this suspension is going to be lifted. I believe it’s for one month initially but it could run into several months.

“The problem that we’re going to have is that the genuine students who want to come over for the universities they’re going to suffer as a result and they won’t be able to get here in time for their courses.” India is currently the UK’s biggest visa operation in the world. More than 500,000 Indians visit the UK every year, among them tens of thousands of students.

I don’t know what the best solution is in situations like this. Obviously some students will lose out, but we know there are severe problems with bogus students coming to Britain and not actually studying. No system will ever be foolproof.

Moreover, many others suffer. Recently the Sikh Channel highlighted the plight of homeless Punjabis in Southall, a number of whom are foreign students. As Manvir Singh recounts:

It was shocking to see that there are at least 100 homeless Panjabis in Southall, and possibly more. There are many reasons why these people are on the streets. One of the reasons is linked to foreign students from India facing desperate times in the UK. These people are living in dustbins, cemeteries, disused garages and under bridges. To cope many have turned to class A Drugs, such as Heroin and Crack Cocaine, as well as other substances. The reason for this is to cope with the cold, to suppress their hunger and to help them sleep on the streets. Many are suffering from serious health conditions such as Hypothermia, Scabies, Gangrene and cannot get immediate medical attention.

Too many of those who apply to study here are tricked by agents in India who promise that they will be able to find a part time job in order to fund their studies:

“Some of them are begging us to send them back but we haven’t got the resources,” Randhawa told the programme. He has sent a message to the local press in Punjab to warn applicants to arrange money and accommodation before setting off.

Nitin Walia reportedly paid an agent nearly 600 pounds to arrange his student visa and spent a further 2480 pounds on college fees and a flight. It took his parents’ entire life savings and money borrowed from relatives to meet the cost. “I feel we have been tricked here,” Walia said.


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  1. damon — on 31st January, 2010 at 8:45 am  

    I remember in Munich Germany several years ago, seeing police walking around the main railway station and just going up to ethnic minority people and demanding their ID papers. It was quite startling to observe.
    They do that in London now too I’ve seen on TV.

    I don’t know what the best solution is in situations like this.

    There isn’t really a solution to it.
    They are poor. And even the chance to live rough in Southall my be preferable to their prospects of staying at home.

    Going overseas is now just something that almost everyone outside of the poorest villages can at least think about. It’s almost like it was with the Irish in my parents generation. You could just go to England and see what happens.

    I have read that’s what it’s like in Iraqi Kurdistan.
    You tell people of your desire to go, and you gather up as much money as you can from your family and friends. They wish you luck and off you go into Turkey. Heading for Istanbul (and later, Calais).

    Taking drugs to Europe must be a mighty big temptation.
    Or just fly to a place like Bangkok or Vientiane, and hang out in a cheap guesthouse until a suitable passport turns up on the black market.

  2. Rumbold — on 31st January, 2010 at 10:01 am  

    Damon:

    I agree that for some people it is still better over here, but for many in Southall (and elsewhere), they have been told that the streets of Britain are paved with gold and that they will easily be able to work and support themselves over here.

  3. MiriamBinder — on 31st January, 2010 at 10:06 am  

    What needs to be targeted are those agents who make promises that cannot be fulfilled. You cannot blame an individual who wants to better his/her life. You cannot blame those friends and family who believe in that individual enough to warrant digging into scarce life savings to give them a better chance in life.

    It is the poor sap who gets targeted, but it is the agent who is too blame.

  4. Tom Johnson — on 31st January, 2010 at 3:36 pm  

    I’m afraid notwithstanding the Bangalore hype India is an under developed third world economy whose greatest growth is in population. The same circumstances that prevail in Southall and other places throughout the UK can be found in most of the developed world: Indians proliferate in Australia, the U.S and throughout the E.U filling up places in colleges, bogus and legit, taking up jobs in public health care systems that would be better filled by natives and under cutting the wages of techies everywhere.

    India has tried to hit the ground running, they need to walk first: build the economy from the bottom up like agriculture tourism and mass produced simplicities employing lots and lots of people which leads to lots and lots of wage packets which leads to lots and lots of consumers which leads to lots and lots of jobs, a virtuous circle.

  5. MaidMarian — on 31st January, 2010 at 3:52 pm  

    Rumbold – First thing, credit to you for recognising that there are no easy answers. Second thing to say is that perhaps the Indian authorities need to get their fingers out of their backsides on this. I would also say to MiriamBinder (3) that governments can not and should not legislate for the stupidity of people who should know better.

    That having been said, this is ultimately a UK problem and there are some things that can be done here. I doubt that one agency can (or should) be able to ‘fix’ this. So here are some suggestions:

    1) the BIA can remove the rule where students can work for 20 hours a week and assiduously enforce this. Yes, the private sector may well squeal but on balance it needs to be done. There has long been a suggestion that some universities (and one in London in particular) have been effectively an open door for bogus students.

    2) At the moment, the fat fees from overseas students incentivise universities to farm overseas often for people who were not good enough to get into university in their home country (one institution in Yorkshire, I mean you!). Universities can reign in their expansion plans. It may be true that UK students may not bring lots of money – tough.

    3) The public can stop looking the other way. Buy to let landlords may be coining it in off foreign students. That is reason enough to target these people alone.

    4) The government can take a look at the rest of the visa system. One reason that student and marriage visas are targets for abuse is that the other visas are almost ludicrously tight.

    I would also suggest that maybe there could be some programme in India actually warning people that unless there is a solid plan, the streets of London are not paved with gold. The Spanish do this in West Africa. There may be good work like this behind the scenes – if so we need more of it!

    But as you say Rumbold, there are no easy outs here.

  6. damon — on 31st January, 2010 at 4:16 pm  

    But the agents are ten a penny Miriam.
    They could be anywhere that has an internet connection.
    Above the shops in some suburban parade in an English city. Or somewhere in India.

    I remember admiring a nicely done painted advertisement on a bit of wall alongside the railway approaching some Indian city in the early 90′s.

    There were many hand painted mural like advertisements
    as you came into urban areas to be seen out the window.

    One was a great big red and white ”Maple Leaf” Canadian flag with the words ”New life in Canada” (or something similar).
    And it was just a simple advertisement for the local immigration/visa business.

    You turn up and say ”I want to go to Canada” (or England) and they start working for you (and charging you) right there.
    It’s all about how much you can pay.
    What I mean is, I’d say that most immigration agents are totally bent.

    My mum has rented out a couple of rooms to Indian nationals in recent years (in the home that she lives in) and has got friendly with some of the people who have come and lived with her. (as have I – and they have been really nice people.)
    But when one of their friends came and asked about renting out one of the rooms as an ”office” (for travel agency type of business) I advised my mother to tell him no.

    Goodness knows the amount of mail and internet traffic (and people calling at the door) might have resulted.

    He was a bit of a wheeler-dealer, and always has a car to sell, so I think it was fair to be a bit suspicious.
    Student visas from South Asia is a racket from start to finish. (I think)

  7. MaidMarian — on 31st January, 2010 at 4:28 pm  

    Damon – You make an interesting point. I may well feel that the government in India should ‘do’ more. But that is far easier said than done, especially when it is difficult to even know who these people are, let alone their location.

    There are no easy answers here.

  8. douglas clark — on 31st January, 2010 at 4:33 pm  

    Seems to me that a licensing system is required, on the immigration agents, to at least keep them to a minimum level of honesty. Though that might require a greater degree of inter country co-operation than appears, at first blush, likely…

    It also seems pretty obvious that a student must have a written acceptance from a UK institution and that that ought to be, perhaps the only major criteria – beyond security checks, etc – to admittance. I’d imagine most Universities and Colleges allow a minor degree of oversubscription, but this increase that Rumbold points to is ludicrous.

  9. Tory — on 31st January, 2010 at 6:08 pm  

    Wouldn’t worry, in 5 or 10 years there wont be any British students left at top universities.

  10. comrade.. — on 31st January, 2010 at 6:10 pm  

    UK stops accepting student VISA applications in Punjab, Chandigarh and Delhi

    http://www.punjabnewsline.com/content/view/22940/38/

  11. Rumbold — on 31st January, 2010 at 6:25 pm  

    MaidMarian:

    I think more needs to be done in telling these students that they won’t find work over here- i.e. by placing ads in Indian papers/on TV. I think a bit of that is done already, but it should be stepped up (by the UK government). Interesting point about theother parts of the UK visa system encouraging student applications because of toughness. I hadn’t thought about that.

  12. MaidMarian — on 31st January, 2010 at 6:42 pm  

    Rumbold – I can’t find the link, but I remember reading a good piece about the wider system a few years ago when my wife and I had the pleasure of the old IND’s system.

    Essentially, the suggestion was that there were only really three ‘problem’ issues in the visa system (that, of course does not include those who do not go through the visa system, but that’s another story). The three issues were marriages, fake students and overstayers who overstayed for personal reasons.

    Now, in each of those cases, taking real action means standing on sensitive toes. But, as you correctly say, there are no easy answers. Stepping on toes and being more open with things like tourist visas is the way forward to my mind.

    But in the short term you are quite right to target students, many of whom are manifestly frivolous.

  13. Rumbold — on 31st January, 2010 at 6:47 pm  

    And some of those who aren’t frivolous are tricked. It is a flawed system all round.

  14. MaidMarian — on 31st January, 2010 at 9:04 pm  

    Rumbold – Yes, but…

    What you are talking about is legislating for motive, which is asking for trouble. I do agree with almost all of what you say, but I don’t have too much by way of a better suggestion. It’s difficult.

  15. A.C. — on 31st January, 2010 at 10:36 pm  

    Rumbold this is a good piece about a problem that is rife.

    My ex-girlfriend, an Indian girl from Delhi, extended her student visa by paying some £600 to a ‘college’ who would sign her in to classes for the fee. It was great for us (especially as it meant we didn’t have to get married to stay together!) but I was always amazed at how much of a soft touch the system was.

    She was living with a group of Indian students, and the scams were just a daily fact of life for them.

    I have to say that although there are difficult situations, the system does need to be choked off to cut all the blaggers off. Give it a thorough clean out and tighten it up so that only genuine students are using it. Otherwise everyone has to be punished and its not fair.

  16. Dalbir — on 31st January, 2010 at 10:52 pm  

    A.C. you make me laugh, perfectly happy with the fraud when it allowed you to sow your oats, now you get all hawkish about it. lol

  17. MiriamBinder — on 31st January, 2010 at 11:02 pm  

    A.C. isn’t that different from the average Jo/e … most people are happy with things while they work in their favour ….

  18. A.C. — on 1st February, 2010 at 1:02 am  

    It was good for us in the short term, but long term it wasn’t good for her because when you are running the scam you are limited to shit jobs and it’s not taking you anywhere. You are also depressing wages for everyone else which isn’t helping the economy.

  19. damon — on 1st February, 2010 at 8:28 am  

    Where I’m writing from right now (Georgetown Malaysia) is full of these travel agents ”yes sir? where you want to go? You want rooms? Motorbike?”
    The kid who is saying this is a fat little (Tamil looking) 13 year old boy.

    I don’t think that they do visa and passport fraud here, as there’s plenty of cheapskate backpacker tourists to make a living off.
    But just over at the next computer from me is a youngish African looking guy.
    Maybe he’s from England – or the USA, or Ghana or Nigeria.

    Maybe he’s hanging out waiting for a passport.
    And maybe it’s none of my business.

    I’d say (just off the top of my head as I have no real idea) that for every real south Asian student application, there’s probably at least as many fraudulent ones.
    And the travel agents over in Southall and East Ham, are just taking the mickey.

  20. sonia — on 1st February, 2010 at 1:57 pm  

    funny there’s a “surge” all at once – somehow i don’t see co-operation happening in the indian subcontinent – so what’s going on? everyone applying all at once>?

    some more detail would be useful – what kind of student visas are being applied for? its a funny time of year to apply for a visa for universities – as they start in the autumn. are these visas for some kind of english language courses etc? A lot of these english as a foreign language colleges are full of dodgy activities, but it is interesting that a “surge” from certain countries is happening in one go.

  21. sonia — on 1st February, 2010 at 2:01 pm  

    Being ‘tricked’ by an agent is a shoddy excuse though. Any one with any common sense should investigate the laws of the country they are intending to go and study in – find out what the rules actually are about working restrictions on student visas! its not a tough thing to do – one only needs a net connection and look it all up on the HOme Office’s website which explains everything.

    I guess the british councils in all these countries might want to do an advertising/awareness scheme to save the embassy a lot of effort.

  22. sonia — on 1st February, 2010 at 2:02 pm  

    and yes it is very annoying for legitimate students when all sorts of bods want to ‘come over’ on student visas abuse the system.

  23. A Councillor Writes — on 1st February, 2010 at 4:22 pm  

    I know a bit more about this than I should probably.

    Essentially, the Tier 4 requirements for the UKBA change later this month and all institutions must use an online system. I’m project managing it for a Russell Group institution and I predict all sorts of fun and games (still some unanswered questions on the XML schema and a bit of goalpost moving).

    Whilst the Tier 4 (student) visa requirements remain roughly the same, I wonder if agents are trying to rush applications in before the compulsory on-line bit starts. I wouldn’t blame them if they did given government records on computer systems.

    For universities, the only real problem with student visas is the “no shows” and the “drop outs”. Believe it or not, some students pay our swingeing fees (or at least a deposit), enter the country and never turn up. It’s mainly a problem from three countries.

    The “drop outs” are to be monitored by each institution defining “contact points” and then recording attendance at them. Miss a certain number and this has to be reported to the UKBA and the visa can be revoked after an investigation. You can all see the flaw in this one, can’t you. At my institution, the overseas student dropout rate is, as you’d expect, slightly less than the home/eu one.

    Lower down the tiers is where the real abuse starts, dodgy language and business colleges, often trying to piggyback on a slightly more reputable institutions certification programme. Doubts have been raised about some of the inspections as well.

  24. falcao — on 1st February, 2010 at 6:07 pm  

    The bankers are the ones that messed up, made us lose homes, jobs and wrecked the next few years of prosperity for us. But hey don’t worry lets blame foreigners for all our woes.

    I agree student visa abuse should be watched and abuse stamped out but are the city bankers watched as closely or scrutinised when they commit fraud or waste our money to hell they are!

  25. Ricky — on 1st February, 2010 at 7:10 pm  

    May be the rich Sikhs could help out…after all the Sikhs are the 2nd most wealthy relgious community in the UK (apparently!!)

    quote from bb message board
    “The latest Hills report [An anatomy of economic inequality in the UK: Report of the National Equality Panel] into UK inequality brought up some very interesting statistics.

    One of the most interesting was that in relation to median total household wealth; Sikhs are second only to Jews (£229,000 for Sikh and £422,000 for Jewish households). Hindu’s come in 4th place behind Christians (£206K and £223K respectively).

    On a slightly more discouraging note, the figures are £15,000 for Bangladeshi households to around £75,000 for Black Caribbean, and £97,000 for Pakistani households (Sikhs households are worth more than double that of a Pakistani household!).

    “On average, Indian Hindu and Sikh men and black Caribbean Christian men have roughly similar wages to white British Christian men; while male Jews earn 24 per cent more, but Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslim men and black African Christian men suffer a “pay penalty”, earning 13-21 per cent less than white British Christian men.(Hills et al, pp. 15, 2010)”

    Does anyone have any suggestions as to the reasons behind the poor economic performance of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian Muslim males?

    Anyway, congrats to the Sikhs – whose feat I consider very impressive since most of the 1st generation Jatt Sikhs who emigrated into the UK in the 50s-70s did not have any form of University education (unlike a large number of their fellow Indian Hindus) and could only get unskilled factory jobs. It just goes to show what hard work and chardi kala can do.”

  26. douglas clark — on 1st February, 2010 at 7:13 pm  

    Ricky,

    Does ‘household wealth’ include the value of your house, if you own it?

    If so, it could explain quite a lot of that disparity.

  27. KJB — on 2nd February, 2010 at 1:56 am  

    Rumbold – I’m glad that you’ve highlighted this problem at last!

    I would also suggest that maybe there could be some programme in India actually warning people that unless there is a solid plan, the streets of London are not paved with gold.

    The problem is that most of the students coming over are from northern India and Punjab in particular. Conditions in Punjab are pretty bad at the moment – it used to be ‘farming country,’ but things are so bad now that many farmers end up committing suicide: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/7992327.stm

    Hence, what Damon says is valid, but the situation is complicated by the fact that there are apparently a lot of Punjabis illegally in the country. In places like Southall, you end up with students, illegals and the local residents competing for employment… It’s a very messy situation.

    Also, British Asians DO try to make this point to those ‘back home,’ quite unequivocally. Virendra Sharma said that he has been in the Punjab local media, trying to get the facts across to younger Punjabis, and I happen to know that a whole group of gurdwara heads and community leaders (including my father) have got together to make a documentary, in which students interviewed warn off prospective arrivals.

    The problem, to date, is that younger Indians tend to look at those who are established here and assume that we are trying to stop them getting a piece of the action. My father is very vocal and frustrated on this issue. He regularly deals with students. He feels that many of them refuse to acknowledge the levels of personal hardship (racism and sacrifice) that his generation endured, that very few of them are capable or willing to do that much work to get somewhere, and that they are trying to offload their own problems onto the community.

    He observed that many of them seem to feel that those who are established here have a ‘right’ to help the students merely by dint of the fact that they are all Sikh. A man claiming to be a student rang in and had a go at the community for not helping them more. HOWEVER, many of them have cut their hair before/when they arrive – and this point was debated hotly on the Sikh Channel – if they are not prepared to maintain a turban, how can they wave their ‘Sikhism’ at British Sikhs?

    My dad wasn’t invited to the debate because of his views, which he claimed, were too much for the Sikh Channel, and he roundly mocked their attempts to fundraise and take up the cause of these students. I have to admit, he does have a point. They featured 3 students – one of whom said he was prepared to go back to India if he was unable to find another job during his studies, and another who said there was effectively no way he would be going back. This second man also mentioned that he was being cooked for and provided for over here by compatriots from his pind (village) back home. So, even on the Sikh Channel, they didn’t really manage to find students in abject poverty!

    Not that those people don’t exist; I think unfortunately they probably get sucked into drugs etc. before the Q of sending them back can be addressed. I think do broadly agree with my dad though – too many people (Punjabis in particular) seem to think they can come here and just segue into largely-Asian areas and get by that way. Expecting the corrupt-ass Indian govt. to be proactive isn’t realistic – someone I know suggested that maybe there should be a cap on the number of student visas (which seems reasonable); MaidMarian’s ideas seemed fairly sensible. A crackdown on the dodgy colleges is necessary; I think about 60 are currently under investigation (or so they said on the Sikh Channel!). Also, maybe they need to stop allowing people to study in one area after a certain point? It might be a bit easier if students are sent to ‘whiter’ areas where they’ll have to practise their English a bit more and learn British social mores better.

    I think the UK govt. may need to do something, since I fear the attempt at warning them off is doomed to failure. My own relatives refuse to believe that we’re not rolling in it – how the hell are we supposed to get other people to listen?! Ricky, above, quoted something which compares Sikhs and Jews; the problem that the British Sikh community is facing in areas is similar to the problem faced by the Anglo-Jews in the nineteenth-century, when there was mass Jewish immigration to the East End.

  28. Dalbir — on 2nd February, 2010 at 9:44 am  

    Anyway, congrats to the Sikhs – whose feat I consider very impressive since most of the 1st generation Jatt Sikhs who emigrated into the UK in the 50s-70s did not have any form of University education (unlike a large number of their fellow Indian Hindus) and could only get unskilled factory jobs. It just goes to show what hard work and chardi kala can do.”

    That’s it boy. Don’t miss a chance to throw caste into it! Thankfully (or not as it may be), a lot of the peasants actually benefited from the artisans who came here without formal education, but with high levels of practical construction skills and a quick aptitude to adapt to British trades. Jats were hired as unskilled labour or, if they were bright, they managed to learn a trade with the help of the skilled Sikhs. Had it not been for this, the Sikh community would’ve been fucked here and probably consisted of a large amount of minicab drivers, like in America.

  29. Deep Singh — on 2nd February, 2010 at 10:06 am  

    KJB wrote:

    “MaidMarian’s ideas seemed fairly sensible. A crackdown on the dodgy colleges is necessary”

    In addition to this, more needs to be done about Gurdwaras (and no doubt other religious institutions) which act as a means of housing illegal immigrants and/or those playing the system as outlined above.

  30. Deep Singh — on 2nd February, 2010 at 10:10 am  

    “It just goes to show what hard work and chardi kala can do.”

    Best not to blow one’s own trumpet too much, it is the second and third descendents of these Jatts who are now hooked on drugs and alcohol in Southall and Birmingham – rather like the situation in Punjab.

  31. KJB — on 4th February, 2010 at 4:13 pm  

    Deep Singh -

    That’s another bugbear of my dad’s. He lets people come and eat langar regularly as long as they’re not drunk, etc., but he thinks that letting them stay overnight in any but the most extreme cases is a mistake. He has a LOT of contempt for most of these students, like I’ve said, but I feel like he’s entitled to that as he has to deal with them regularly. He didn’t tell me about this, but I overheard him saying that drugged-up Punjabis come into the gurdwara and leave syringes and other paraphernalia from their drug-taking in the men’s toilets! In all honesty, I am not really religious any more, but that is absolutely fucking disgraceful. Charity is charity, not a right or an obligation by any means.

  32. Arnab Dasgupta — on 5th February, 2010 at 6:08 am  

    UKBA stopped accepting application of student visas (tier-4) from Northern India, Nepal & Bangladesh from 31st January 2010. But a large number of Mariners (seaman) from bangladesh & india apply under tier 4 student visas for giving their proffessional examination under MCA ( Maritime & coastguard Agency) as uk’s certificate of competetency (COC) is the best for this maritime sector.

    Many Mariner ( Seaman ) have already booked for may’2010 session & also paid the booking money.Total course duration is only 12 to 14 months.

    I have already got visa letter from Liverpool John Moores University for May’2010 session after completing two years academic course & 36 months seatime in ship required by MCA.

    Maximun mariners want to give this COC examination just for getting certificate. They don’t want to migrate in UK and return their respective countries as soon as possible after getting certificate, because salary in shipping sector is very handsome.

    So UKBA’s condideration regarding this matter is highly appreciated. Because all are not bogus students. For few bogus students & Institutes an overall descission hampers the carrier of a lot of proper students.

    Thanks & best regards,

    Arnab Dasgupta,
    Chittagong,
    Bangladesh.
    Mobile: 0088-01554344107 & 0088-01717119648

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