Delays in processing UK visas looks likely to result in problems for thousand of overseas students.
Students who had hoped to spend Christmas back in their home countries are finding themselves without their passports due to the backlog of visa applications waiting to be processed at the UK Border Agency (UKBA).
The government's cuts to spending have resulted in staff cuts at the UKBA, while constant changes to UK immigration rules are also having an impact on the time it takes the agency to handle UK visa requests and extension applications.
Students have claimed to have been waiting between four and seven months for their applications to be processed, suggesting that the problem is with the agency rather than a lack of awareness regarding the application process.
Dominic Scott, chief executive of the UK Council for International Student Affairs, told the Financial Times that the situation has deteriorated since the government introduced new requirements, such as biometric processing.
“[UKBA] staff are constantly being redeployed when there's a new problem … and these student visas are always the lowest priority,” he told the paper.
The UKBA, however, said that customers are warned their applications may take as long as six months but claimed that extra staff are brought in whenever demand is particularly high.
Daniel Stevens, who is from Brazil and is the international students officer for the National Union of Students, estimated that “thousands” of young people studying in the UK have been unable to return home for Christmas this year due to immigration problems.
Speaking to the financial paper, he added that despite attempts by home secretary Theresa May to reassure foreign students that they are welcome in Britain, the message received by his friends back in Brazil is “don't come to the UK”.
“There's no sign that the government has been willing to compromise or make the system better; it's only getting tighter and tighter – it's getting more stringent and more difficult,” he added.