UK losing overseas students due to tough UK student visa rules

Up to 40 per cent of overseas students who apply for a UK Student Visa are being turned away, say education agents in Hong Kong.

Others are subject to such long delays that they miss the start of the school or college term. The agents said they were encouraging students to apply for an Australian Student Visa or to the US instead.

They blame the UK's new points-based immigration system, which was introduced by the Government in April to stop bogus students entering the country.

The Home Office said 30 per cent of UK Student Visas from Hong Kong are being approved, down from 100 per cent last year.

A drop in the number of international students being approved for a UK Student Visa will have severe financial repercussions on already hard-pressed universities and on the UK economy.

In 2007-08, there were more than 45,300 students from China at UK universities, and 9,700 from Hong Kong. Some 3,000 students from Hong Kong and China join private schools in the UK each year.

Dominic Scott, the chief executive of the UK Council for International Students, said that between April and June this year, 35 per cent of visa applications from China were refused. Some 49 per cent of applications from India and 21 per cent from the United States were rejected.

Students need an unconditional offer to apply for a visa, but do not receive this until they have their GCSE or A-level results.

They then have to apply for the UK visa, which can take up to eight weeks, by which time the college or school term has started and the university term is about to begin.

For example, the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination results are released at the beginning of August, so visas aren't received until mid-September – after term has begun.

Scott said: "Our concern at the moment is not that people submitting applications are going to be refused, but that they may be put off and scared by the very high refusal rate, which may make them reconsider."

Steve Lo, an agent working in Hong Kong to recruit students for Portsmouth, East Anglia and Northumbria universities, said 40 per cent of his students – up to 300 of them - had been turned away by visa officials.

Hundreds more have to wait up to eight weeks for their visas, he said, and agents are recommending students apply for an Australian Student Visa instead.

Lo said: "The students are disappointed and we are telling them they are better off applying to Australia because the visa application there takes as little as two weeks. We don't want them to wait and then not get a visa."

A spokesman from the UK Border Agency said: "We make no apology for carrying out tougher checks, and by working with the education sector we have made every effort to ensure that the information of the points-based system has been a success. The government will continue to welcome students who wish to receive a first-rate education, but they must first prove they are legitimate."


The UK Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in UK visas and immigration services.