If you didn’t know they were foreign students who had paid thousands of pounds for the privilege of studying in Britain, you could mistake them for poor immigrants queuing up for shelter and a free meal.

For hundreds of newly-arrived foreign students, their first taste of Britain is a night out in bitter cold waiting outside the Overseas Visitors Records Office in London to report their presence in the country.

Students from certain countries living in Greater London are required to register with the police within seven days of their arrival in Britain. They complain that there is only one designated registration office and it is woefully short of staff resulting in long queues.

Students start gathering from midnight and yet many are turned away as the office operates a first-come-first-served policy and is able to handle only a small number of students on a particular day.

“The students who are queuing there are outraged that they are having to do this. It is absolutely unacceptable that students be asked to be queue for hours, often in terrible weather, and be expected to arrive before 06.30 to have any chance of being seen,” said Daniel Stevens, international students officer for the National Union of Students who filmed a queue on a typical night and sent it to the BBC to highlight the problem.

One student said it was embarrassing to be “treated like cattle”.

The Universities U.K., which represents vice-chancellors, said it had taken up the issue with the Universities Minister David Willetts.

Police said it was “usual” at the start of a new academic session because of an influx of foreign students. The office was now opening an hour and a half earlier than usual.

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