New Delhi: Suspecting rampant abuse after a 650 percent increase in student visa applications in three months, the British High Commission has temporarily suspended acceptance of new visa applications of students with effect from February 1 in north India.
"From February 1, United Kingdom High Commission will stop accepting student visa applications under Tier 4 of the points based system at visa application centres in New Delhi, Chandigarh and Jalandhar," the Regional Director of UK Border Agency, Chris Dix, told reporters here on Saturday.
The decision was taken after a "dramatic" increase in student visa applications. Between October to December 2009, the number of student visa applications in northern India jumped to 13,500, compared to 1,800 in 2008 and 1000 in 2007 for the same period.
"This will allow us to properly scrutinize applications thoroughly and manage the visa process efficiently for all customers in north India," said Dix, who heads India Visa operation which is UK's largest in the world. He said that the applications will be examined to see if they are genuine applicants and are financially capable of studying in Britain. The High Commission official asserted that it was a "local solution to a local problem".
All those applicants who have already got appointments before February 1 will have their application processed as normal. But, all the appointments given after February 1 will be suspended for now. All new applications will of course not be accepted as well.
This order will not affect the Western and South India visa application centres. "Applicants should first contact through e-mail for appointments in those centres to see if their application will be accepted. I would strongly advise against travelling first to see if they can get appointments in person," said Dix.
He noted that the reasons for the sharp increase could be the "good opportunities" provided in his country as well as the decrease in number of students in some other countries. When asked the drop in number of students to Australia was a factor, Dix said, "It might be".
But officials suspect that the main cause was rather a more rampant abuse of the system. British Deputy High Commissioner Nigel Casey said that the suspension decision was a combination of the dramatic number increase in applications as well as concern about its quality.
"Some people in north India are perhaps spreading the news that student visa is a good way to settle in UK," he said.
Out of the 13,500 applications, some of them have been found to have examined "causes for concern".
"Part of the reason (for the suspension) is that the we don't have the resources to scrutinize the applications thoroughly," said Casey, adding that the Indian government had been informed in "general terms that there was a rise in student visas last year which will affect our customer service deadlines".
Stressing that the suspension is only temporary, UK Border Agency official Dix said that a review would be done at the end of February.
A similar temporary suspension was done last year in China when there was a sharp rise in applications from a certain province.