The change was unveiled in a statement by Immigration Minister Caroline Noakes, along with other changes to immigration policy affecting medical staff, Afghan interpreters, and school children who do not qualify for humanitarian leave to remain.
“I consider this another kick in the teeth for India. The government has got it wrong”
The list has been extended from 15 nations to 26, with nations such as China, Bahrain and Serbia added to the US, Canada and New Zealand.
Oman is the only nation to be removed from the fast-track list.
However a notable absence from the new list is India, and Indian international education stakeholders – as well as the Indian media – have not taken the omission lightly.
“India left out”, and “India excluded” are just some of the headlines in (English language) Indian newspapers, which feature high-profile Indian and British-Indian figures bemoaning the perceived exclusion. The timing has also been described as “astonishing” with the UK-India Week beginning Monday.
Lord Bilimoria, who came from India to the UK as a student before setting up successful beer brand Cobra, is president of UKCISA along with his role in the British parliament and the UK-India Business Council. He did not mince his words.
“I consider this another kick in the teeth for India… This sends entirely the wrong message to India… The government has simply got it wrong,” he said, describing the UK’s immigration policy as “hostile and illiterate”.
Some of the anger, especially as expressed on social media, is linked to the positive track which UK-India relations have been seen as taking in recent years.
As the UK hurtles towards Brexit, Indian PM Modi and the UK’s May have met on several occasions, with talk of a free trade deal echoing in the corridors of Westminster and New Delhi alike.
But this perceived lack of respect from the UK towards the nation which provides the third most international students to the UK education system could be a stumbling block for that ambition.
“The perception of this message among Indian students worries us”
Bilimoria described the British will for a trade agreement alongside this student visa snub as “pie-in-the-sky”.
“I consider this insulting. To think that this is announced whilst this is the same Britain that is talking about doing a Post Brexit free trade deal with India, and this is the way they treat India! An FTA with India with this approach is pie-in-the-sky,” he said.
At least one Indian MP, Ahmed Patel who represents Gujarat, wrote on Twitter: “Extremely unfortunate that our students have been left out from UK’s simplified visa process,” and called for the Ministry of External Affairs to take the issue up with the British government at the “highest levels”.
On Facebook, NISAU UK which represents Indian students in the UK wrote that the news “effectively categorises Indian students as ‘high risk'”.
“Extremely unfortunate that our students have been left out from UK’s simplified visa process”
“It is important to note that today’s announcement makes no change to the process of application for Indian students, but it is the perception of this message among Indian students that worries us,” said Sanam Arora of NISAU UK.
Though Noakes made a statement, it did not mention the student visa changes specifically, and the Home Office declined to comment further.
However, a Home Office spokesperson told The PIE News that the change would mean students would not have to provide proof of English test scores to the government, but they would still have to prove their language skills to the institution attended.
When asked if this change would be a precursor to further liberalisations, such as removing students from the official migration statistics (the MAC is due to report on this issue in around two months), the spokesperson told The PIE that the UK government does not think including students in the migration figures has “any detrimental effect on students or the UK education sector”.
In a further change, Macau SAR has been added to the list of “competent authorities” which issue passports allowing students to submit different documentation. It joins Hong Kong, Taiwan and “British National (Overseas)” in this category.
The full list of nations currently subject to “different documentary requirements”:
- The Dominican Republic
- The Maldives
- New Zealand
- South Korea
- Trinidad and Tobago
- United Arab Emirates
- United States of America