The U.K. announced a partial lifting of the ban on student visas in north India, sending a wave of relief among thousands of genuine students who are at an advanced stage of enrolling at British universities.

Pat McFadden, the Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, said, “The suspension was taken in response to a huge surge in applications over a very short period of time.”

He added, “I am delighted to be able to announce today that, from 1 March, this suspension will be lifted for all students wanting to study higher education courses, whether foundation degrees, undergraduate or postgraduate.”

However, he added that the temporary suspension will remain in place for all those wanting to study at lower levels.

McFadden said: “But we will continue to keep this under review and will lift it as soon as we can, and once the new ‘highly trusted sponsor’ system for colleges and other educational establishments across the UK is in place.”

Student visas from north India were suspended on 1 February, causing concern among thousands of students, their families and also British universities who depend on high fee-paying international students for a substantial part of their revenue.

According to official figures, the direct value of students from India and other non-European Union countries to the U.K. economy is estimated at 8.5 billion pounds annually.

Announcing a tighter student visa regime last week, Home secretary Alan Johnson on Saturday said bogus students will find it difficult to gain entry and work in Britain illegally.

But he added that genuine students will continue to be welcome. The new regulations will ensure that students studying below degree level have a limited ability to work in the U.K., and that their dependants cannot work here at all.

It will be even harder for bogus students, whose only aim is to work in the U.K., to come into the country, he said.

Johnson said: “The points-based system was introduced to provide a rigorous system to manage legitimate access to the U.K. to work and study, with the ability to respond to changing circumstances.

We want foreign students to come here to study, not to work illegally, and today we have set out necessary steps which will maintain the robustness of the system we introduced last year.

I make no apologies for that.”

Johnson said the changes are part of a radical overhaul of the student system which began last year.

Since March 2009, the government has required all foreign students to be sponsored by a college licensed by the U.K. Border Agency, and to demonstrate that they can support themselves once they get here before being granted a visa.

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