A prominent UK think tank on Monday branded the British government's decision to exclude India from a new expanded list of countries able to access easier student visa norms an "act of self-harm" as it could further push Indian students away from British universities.
The Social Market Foundation (SMF) said the UK Home Office's decision to leave Indian students off a list of 25 countries to be offered a relaxed application process in the Tier 4 visa category for overseas students was a missed opportunity.
"In the year that ended September 2010, Britain gave visas to 60,322 students from India. By September 2017, the figure had fallen to 14,081. During the same period, the number of Indians studying at American and Canadian universities has risen, said SMF Director James Kirkup.
"The omission of Indian students risks pushing even more Indian students away from British universities," he warned.
The Russell Group, an association which represents around 24 of the UK's leading universities including Oxford and Cambridge, also backed a "reasonable" visa application process for Indian students.
Russell Group Senior Policy Analyst Hollie Chandler said: There are nearly 6,000 Indian students studying at Russell Group universities. These individuals make an important contribution to our universities and our country and we want their interactions with the UK, and their time here, to be as positive as possible."
This is why we support a straightforward and reasonable visa application process for all students coming from overseas.
The body welcomed the UK government's measures aimed at simplifying the application process for international students in general.
"China is clearly an important market for Russell Group universities and we are pleased to see other countries on the list, such as Mexico and Thailand, where we expect to see growth in the future, notes Russell Group Chief Executive Tim Bradshaw.
As part of immigration changes tabled in Parliament on Friday, UK immigration minister Caroline Nokes had announced the addition of 11 countries, including China, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and Mexico, to an existing list of countries from where students will be able to benefit from a streamlined application process.
However, India was conspicuous by its absence on this newly-expanded list, despite being among the top three countries from where overseas students come in to study at UK universities, after China and the US.
Lord Karan Bilimoria, Indian-origin entrepreneur and President of the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), categorised it as "another kick in the teeth for India.
This latest insult to India is on top of the reduction made a couple of years ago for Chinese tourists and business visitors, who pay GBP 85 for a two-year multi-entry visa, whereas Indians still pay more than four times that, said Bilimoria, warning that the latest move would damage the so-called special relationship between India and the UK.
As part of the changes, the UK Home Office added on the additional countries to a list already covering countries like the US, Canada and New Zealand.
From July 6, students applying to UK universities from the countries on the list would face reduced checks on educational, financial and English language skill requirements to study at British universities.
However, Indian students applying for similar courses will continue to face rigorous checks and documentary requirements.
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