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Why Indian student numbers in UK have skyrocketed — graduate visa, pandemic backlog

The British High Commission granted 1.27 lakh student visas to Indians in the year ending September 2022, an increase of 273 per cent over the same period in 2019.

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New Delhi: The British High Commission granted 1.27 lakh student visas to Indians between September 2021-2022, an increase of 273 per cent over the same period in 2018-2019, it revealed last week.

This unprecedented rise, ThePrint has learnt, is because of the high demand for the UK Graduate visa as well as a backlog of applications due to the pandemic.

Although the British High Commission does not publish real-time data on visa applications, experts and educationists estimate that student visa applications from India could be five to six times the number of visas that were issued, i.e. between 6.3 lakh and 7.6 lakh applications.

This year’s application cycle was marked by major delays in visa processing, prompting the High Commission to issue ‘super priority visas’ to students in the month of August.

In a video statement in October, British High Commissioner Alex Ellis noted that the rise in student visa applications contributed to the “unprecedented surge”. But the Commission is now on track to get back to its standard of processing visas within 15 days, he said.

“The UK continues to offer international students an academic experience with world-leading universities and an innovative approach to teaching. Indian students make up one of the UK’s largest groups of international students,” a British High Commission spokesperson told ThePrint, adding that education is one of the “mainstays of the unique living bridge” connecting the UK and India.

Also Read: Great step: New UK-India visa scheme hailed by industry, student groups

Delayed impact of demand for Graduate visa

In 2019, the UK brought back what was previously known as the post-study visa, now “Graduate visa”, which allows international students to stay in the UK for at least two years after completing their degree.

According to education consultants and student unions in the UK, a slightly delayed impact of the demand for this Graduate visa was a major contributor to the “extraordinary rise” in student visas granted to students in the year ending September 2022.

“This was an exceptional moment in time where a number of factors came together to drive this extraordinary rise of Indian students,” Sanam Arora, head of National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK (NISAU) — the oldest and largest Indian student and alumni network in the UK — told ThePrint.

“What we’re seeing now is a slightly delayed impact of the demand for this visa because of the Covid-19 pandemic. To add to this, there is a backlog of applications because some students deferred their acceptances during the pandemic,” added Arora, an LSE alumna who currently works as an investment management consultant in London.

Concurring, S. Raj, managing director of Kerala-based Fair Future Overseas Educational Consultancy, said the Graduate visa as well as other policies issued by the UK Border Agency have played a role in the surge.

With Indians already accounting for 39 per cent of the UK’s total worker visas, it won’t be long until they reach 50 per cent, he pointed out.

“The UK immigration department has to allocate more manpower to process the visa applications to tackle the current delay [in processing],” he added.

Curbs on foreign students

According to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), about 7.52 lakh Indian students go abroad every year. Arora claims that this figure will keep rising, despite the fact that the UK is “at capacity”.

“This figure of 750,000 is rising at a compound annual growth rate of more than 10 per cent every year. The trend of how many Indians want to come to the UK will continue to rise but the country is already at capacity, which may be one of the reasons contributing to the recent pushback from the UK government,” Arora explained.

According to reports, the Rishi Sunak-led UK government is considering curbs on foreign students with “low-quality degrees” and to limit such students from bringing over dependents.

Raj said that while this will ensure quality education for Indian students considering studying in the UK, the policy may adversely affect many universities in the UK that rely on international students for funding.

According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics, those arriving on study visas in the UK account for the largest proportion of long-term immigration of non-EU nationals. However, there were also “unique” factors this year causing a swell in immigration, such as visa schemes for Ukrainian and Hong Kong citizens.

Asked what is the expected increase in the number of Indian applications in the next student visa cycle (May-June), the High Commission spokesperson told ThePrint that they could not speculate on any potential increase or decrease in student numbers from a particular nationality.

(Edited by Geethalakshmi Ramanathan)

Also Read: Indian group urges UK to remove overseas students from migration stats


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