Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Visa Crusade Risks 'Cut' to Overseas Numbers

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Visa Crusade Risks 'Cut' to Overseas Numbers

Article excerpt

Use of 250,000 'credibility interviews' questioned after 'unjustified' refusals. John Morgan reports

Concerns are growing about international students suffering "harsh and unjustified" refusals by Home Office officials after being accepted for admission by UK universities as it emerges the department has been looking at further tightening the visa regime with a set of new measures.

Nearly 250,000 "credibility interviews" have so far been conducted on prospective non-European Union students in the past two years, refusing visas to 9 per cent of applicants on average over the period, it has emerged in government figures.

The UK Council for International Student Affairs, whose membership includes all British universities, says that it has received a "substantial increase in reports of [visa] refusals on grounds of 'credibility'".

In a report sent to the Home Office, UKCISA cites reports from universities that list reasons for refusal given to students after credibility interviews by department officials, which include "not knowing the number of students likely to be in a class", "not knowing exam dates" and "being told that studying to be a dietician is an unlikely plan as there is no demand for that expertise in Syria".

Separately, several sector sources have suggested that the Home Office is looking at plans to lower the visa refusal rate that is permitted if institutions want to be sponsors under the Tier 4 system for overseas students, from 10 per cent of total applications to 5 per cent, possibly via an interim stage of 8 per cent.

If institutions' refusal rates rise above the permitted level, they are at risk of losing their licence to admit overseas students.

The government lowered the permitted refusal rate from 20 per cent to 10 per cent last year.

And last week, the Home Office convened a meeting with sector representatives at Universities UK where it canvassed opinion on plans to raise the minimum levels of English required for students to gain a visa.

Dominic Scott, chief executive of UKCISA, said: "There are general concerns about things tightening in four or five different ways."

This has happened "without anybody saying 'we are going to reduce the number of international students because we have too many'", he added. "But there are various administrative mechanisms which will actually have that impact."

On the credibility interview figures, Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the Million+ group of new universities, said that it was not known whether officials were making "impartial" decisions in credibility interviews that were "taking place after universities have issued a confirmation of acceptance of study". …

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