Abiodun, an international student from Nigeria, holds an unconditional offer to study postgraduate International Business at the University of Chester. The course was due to start on May 2 and Abiodun applied for his visa on April 11.
The UK government website advises overseas students that they will normally receive a visa decision within three weeks, but Abiodun (who does not wish to publish his last name) has now been waiting for five weeks.
He described the wait as “torturing”, saying that “it seems like we are on our own and can do nothing about the situation”.
In March, the UK government announced that “applications for study, work and family visas may take longer to process” as it is prioritising visas for arriving Ukrainians.
Emily Merson, executive director at AIFS Abroad, a US-based study abroad provider, said the organisation has approximately 95 students waiting for visas for work and study programs in the UK that begin in May and June.
“For a recovering sector it is a disaster for us. These are hard-fought-for sales and all are paid with flights booked and housing secured”
Merson described the situation as “heartbreaking”.
“For a recovering sector it is a disaster for us. These are hard-fought-for sales and all are paid with flights booked and housing secured,” Merson said.
It is unclear how many students are affected overall, but agents in India and Nigeria have also said the students they work with are facing delays that are particularly impacting those with May start dates.
Amar Bahada, director at Meridean overseas education consultants in India, is awaiting visa decisions for 37 students who are due to start their university courses in May. He said that visa applications are now typically taking four to six weeks, meaning many of these students will miss the start of their courses.
Similarly, Hermant Agrawal, CEO at BitTrack, an India-based agency, said approximately 50 students he works with have been waiting for almost 45 days.
Bahada said he previously advised students to use the government’s “priority” or “super-priority” routes, through which applicants can pay extra to receive a decision after five or two working days respectively.
However the government suspended these options in March without warning.
A Home Office spokesperson told The PIE News: “We are prioritising Ukraine Family Scheme and Homes for Ukraine applications in response to the humanitarian crisis caused by Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine, so applications for study, work and family visas have taken longer to process.
“We are working at pace to ensure these are issued as quickly as possible.”
The UK’s visa and immigration department has been criticised in recent weeks for the long wait that some Ukrainian refugees hoping to travel to the country have faced.
“We hope that there would be expanded capacity to deal with study visa applications come this summer”
Bukky Awofisayo, Africa regional head at Intake Education agency, said the delays had “created panic amongst students”.
Agents are worried that the delays will continue until September when significantly more international students will be planning to start university courses in the UK.
“We hope that there would be expanded capacity to deal with study visa applications come this summer as we envisage a large number of students will be applying judging from the increased number of applications across [the] board,” Awofisayo said.
In India, Bahada said many of the students he works with typically apply to Indian universities first and wait until they have heard the outcome of their application in July, before applying to international universities if they don’t get a space.
However, if visa delays continue, Bahada fears this will not give students enough time and they may risk missing the start of the academic year.
A spokesperson for the University of Chester said that the university was unaware of delays but that it was “happy to offer our support” to any students applying to the university who are experiencing challenges.