Sure, Britain isn’t perfect. But we do have things we do well, and university education is one of them. Our universities are among the best in the world, and according to UNESCO, somewhere near 400,000 students and researchers come to Britain every year to study with us.
If you’re an international student here and want to extend your visa – for example, if you are a Masters student beginning a research degree – the UK Border Agency accepts an “in-country application” for visa extensions. The procedure costs £394 and crucially, the UKBA requires every student to send all original documentation as well as their passport with the application. Documents are returned when the process is complete.
UKBA’s own target for returning a successful visa is 20 days. But UKBA isn’t doing what they promise. According to the Border Agency’s own independent inspector, only 12% of applications meet this target. A freedom of information request made in September found the average time for processing such a visa is currently 108 days.
The National Union of Students reports that thousands of international students are at risk of being held in the UK, unable to go home this Christmas because UKBA are holding onto their passports for – according to the Financial Times – between “four and seven months” (FT article here – £). At the University of Bath, of 151 students who submitted applications within the prescribed time – and paid the £394 fee – only 11 have received timely service from UKBA. Another international office responded to the NUS that of 300 visa applications made in September and October, only 30 have been processed.
This means that, if you have a university in your city, you can expect hundreds of international students to be stuck here this year through no fault of their own, having paid £394 to UKBA in the autumn, and often hundreds of pounds out of pocket on a return flight they can’t take, because their passport is being held by the Border Agency.
So whatever your political views on the matter do please remember: there are thousands of students, here, unable to see their families at Christmas this year, even though they have followed the proper procedures for visa applications, simply because UKBA can’t get their act together.
If you are running an event over the holiday period please let your local University’s students union know. They can forward details to those who may be here alone this Christmas.
The NUS is urging people to write to their local MP. Let’s make sure this level of terrible service isn’t suffered by international students again.