In a statement that was widely welcomed by its 46 members, ESU highlighted concerns around student visa duration, free movement, post-study work rights and advocated for a streamlined system to allow refugees to enter higher education.
“Students engaging in international mobility, which has been a priority in higher education for a long time, face serious setbacks, disadvantages and discrimination in regard to their freedom of movement,” ESU’s response reads.
According to ESU’s vice president Caroline Sundberg, the current visa policy is limiting universities’ global reach.
“Visa application processes must not be seen as a deterrent to people from less advantaged backgrounds”
“The nature of higher education institutions is global, but if students are not able to participate or universities are not able to have international students in their program, they are missing out on [internationalisation],” she told The PIE News.
Student visas for non-EU nationals, ESU said, should cover the entire duration of the course, include access international mobility within the EU and allow students to stay in the EU for 12 months to seek “relevant” employment.
ESU also called for a simplification of the procedure for refugee status recognition, and a system to allow higher education institutions to accept refugees also on the waiting period. It said refugees and migrants should be able to quickly and safely apply for a visa to study and work with exactly the same rights as other students.
Along the same line, the Union’s response advocated for visa applications to be more affordable and accessible for all students, suggesting a simplification of the bureaucratic hurdles students are subjected to such as multiple document submissions and translations.
“All visa application procedures for third country nationals wishing to engage in international mobility must be both affordable and accessible to all,” the response warns.
“Visa application processes must not be seen as a deterrent to people from less advantaged backgrounds. Using visas as a selection method for international students separate from higher education institutions is fundamentally flawed.”
To improve access, students should be allowed to apply for student visas at any Schengen country embassy and online applications should be secured, while valid documents to prove the applicant’s financial status should also include future scholarships and government support.
The single biggest problem for non-EU students applying for a student visa is being able to meet financial criteria, Sundberg explained.
“It’s not always common that students have their own bank account or have the amount of money that is expected when applying,” she said.
“We think merit, qualifications and interest in the study program should play the most important part for the study admissions, not nationality and visa application procedures,” she concluded.