U.K. making it easy for Indian students

CHENNAI March 29 . An urge to `get international exposure' and `study abroad' is goading hundreds of south Indian youth— the number is growing every season— to pursue higher education in Britain. Responding to the demand, U.K. Deputy High Commission officials here say they are trying to ensure that travel to and study in Britain are a pleasant, hassle-free experience for students. More importantly, the curbs on students seeking part- time jobs have been relaxed.

Even while reorienting activities to keep pace with the increase in applicants, ``we are streamlining procedures to improve efficiency and speed in visa services,'' says an official in the Deputy High Commission's Immigration (Visa section). Most student applicants, as many other categories of visa seekers, can get the service the same day.

The Chennai office, which issues visas to applicants from the southern States, recorded a three-fold increase in issue of student visas in the last four years. In 2000, 1,297 student visas were issued, a number which went up to 2,711 in 2001, representing a 110 per cent increase.

Alongside the Deputy High Commission works the British Council, whose operation in India is its largest globally, representing a real engagement in education, culture, science and technology. The Second Secretary in the Chennai Visa Section, Geoff Wood, says the visa procedures issue have been streamlined to support of the Prime Minister's student initiative (to attract more international students to the U.K).

The initiative focusses on developing a brand and a global marketing strategy: Education and training, and expanding the number of scholarships. Around 700 scholarships including Chevenings are offered to Indians by British universities every year. The U.K. is working to increase the value of Chevening scholarships to Indian students to two million pounds annually. ``The idea is to make visa and entry arrangements more user- friendly to students. The rules now allow overseas students to work upto 20 hours a week during term-time, and take up full-time work during vacations,'' Mr.Wood notes. Overseas students can now seek full time employment in the U.K after successfully completing studies. Earlier, such persons had to wait for work permits.

In 2001, 7000 Indians were studying in the U.K, a number to be increased to 12,000 by 2005. But amid these improved initiatives, Visa interviewers are careful to balance ``our efficiency and speed of delivering service with controls on people entering the U.K,'' he adds.

Business travel also up

Other categories of Indians travelling to Britain are also growing, Mr. Wood explains. In 2000, the number of work permits issued was 2364, and it rose to 3929 in 2001 (up 70 per cent). Family visit visas which were a mere 565 in 2000 jumped to 4431 in 2001 (up almost seven-fold). The total visas issued has doubled in just three years.

Then, there is the `business express service' for large companies whose executives frequently visit the country.

The applications of enlisted companies especially in the I.T. industry are processed swiftly, says Mr. Wood. A proactive office goes to business houses to explain the facility. The result: a 300 per cent increase in response since the start of the scheme in early 2001.

Today, Indians make up 63 per cent of the total number of foreign nationals granted permission to enter the U.K on the basis of I.T qualification (11,474 out of 18,257).Even for those seeking jobs, the work permits are issued within two weeks, with a maximum validity of 4- 5 years.

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