Faced with a manifold increase in student visa applications from north India and fearing foul play, the United Kingdom on Saturday announced that no fresh student visa applications would be accepted at any of its three centres in the region from February 1.

This “temporary suspension” was announced here by the British Deputy High Commissioner Nigel Casey and the Regional Director of the U.K. Border Agency, Chris Dix. According to Mr. Dix, this decision had to be taken in view of the “unexpectedly high numbers of student visa applications” at centres in New Delhi, Chandigarh and Jalandhar this time round.

As against 1,800 student visa applications received at these centres between October and December 2008, the corresponding months in 2009 saw as many 13,500 applicants.

“The temporary suspension will allow the Border Agency to continue to scrutinise applications thoroughly and to manage the visa process efficiently for all our customers in north India.”

Though they refused to divulge details of the kind of foul play suspected, Mr. Casey said there was a fear that some applicants were attempting to abuse the British visa process as an easy entry route into the country. “This temporary measure is designed to protect genuine students, professional agents and good education providers from anyone who is not currently playing by the rules.”

And to ensure that students in north India did not move south or westwards to submit applications at British visa application centres there to sidestep the “temporary suspension”, Mr. Dix said applicants would have to seek appointment by email first.

As for the applications received till this month-end, they will be scrutinised to see if the applicants are bona fide students and have the financial backing they claim.

In 2008-09, India with 4,70,645 applicants under various categories accounted for 19 per cent of the global demand for entry into the U.K; topping the list and way above the first runner-up Nigeria with 2,00,220 applicants.

In the students’ category, India along with China accounts for the largest contingent of foreign entrants into U.K. universities.