Alarmed by a nearly 24 per cent decline in the number of Indian students coming to Britain since the introduction of stringent visa rules last year, British Prime Minister David Cameron is reported to be planning to visit India to assure that there are no restrictions on genuine students and the rules are designed to prevent abuse of students visas by bogus applicants.
Downing Street declined to comment, saying it did not discuss Prime Minister’s foreign visits in advance, but The Financial Times reported that Mr. Cameron was expected to visit India as early as next month amid concern that changes to the visa rules and restrictions on non-European Union students’ right to work during and after their studies was deterring Indian students from coming here, and damaging the economy that relies heavily on fee-paying foreign students.
This will be Mr. Cameron’s second visit to India since he came to power less than three years ago, promising an “enhanced relationship” with New Delhi, and comes on the heels of a visit to India by his Conservative Party’s London Mayor Boris Johnson, who described the immigration policy as “crazy.”
Mr. Johnson said the constant changes to the policy, aimed at keeping out illegal immigrants, was driving “India’s top talent” to other countries that were more open to foreigners.
“Some of the decisions on visas are counterproductive. While we need a tough immigration policy to keep out illegal immigrants, what is not comprehensible is excluding people who will contribute to the economy,” he said. Foreign students contributed some five billion pounds to the British economy every year in tuition fee alone, he pointed out.
British businesses have also voiced concern that the increasingly stricter rules were preventing them from attracting the best global talent.
Official data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed that the number of students from India fell by 23.5 per cent during 2011-12, even as overall numbers of non-EU students went up mainly because of a rise in students from China. Jo Beall, director of education and society at British Council, said the figures suggested that “changes to the U.K. visa regulations may have dissuaded many students from applying.”
“Playing to a British audience [on immigration] has a huge impact on countries like India and Pakistan, which have historical relationships with us, large middle classes that are English speaking and a free, English speaking press. So when these things are said here they get reported over there and it has a very damaging impact on how we are perceived by potential students,” she said.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities U.K., which represents university vice-chancellors, said it was important that “both government and universities promote a compelling case internationally for the quality of our universities, and make explicit that the U.K. welcomes international students.”