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Visa application issues could stop students reaching universities

The closure of visa application centres around the world could prevent international students from reaching university campuses this September, according to industry stakeholders.

Many students are unable to get visas, as application centres around the world are closed. Photo: Pexels

Canadian, US, Australian and UK centres in multiple countries are closed due to the pandemic

The centres are used to collect biometric information, documents and, in some countries, function as places to conduct in-person interviews with applicants – all necessary steps before a visa can be issued.

“There’s absolutely a risk that students won’t be able to get to the UK”

However, VFS Global, an outsourcing company that manages visa applications for governments, shows that Canadian, US, Australian and UK centres in multiple countries are closed due to the pandemic.

The closures are causing concern for universities and education agents across the world many of who are calling for governments to introduce greater flexibility around application requirements, so students can get to their destination countries.

“There’s absolutely a risk that students won’t be able to get to the UK,” Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, told The PIE News. 

“I think for us the question isn’t ‘will the September entry be affected?’ It is a question of how much and for how long.

“Also, how much will the flexibilities that we are able to put in place at the university level be able to overcome that set of difficulties?” she added.

Another concern is that when visa application centres do open, they will have a large backlog of applications that they need to process, something which could cause lengthy delays.

“The UK Home Office is well aware of the problems created by the closure of visa application centres,” said Stern.

“Up until now what we have been told is that they are pretty confident that when they are able to open up those centres, they will be able to, very quickly, deal with any backlog that has built up.

“But obviously the longer this goes on the more difficult that will be.”

This concern was echoed by Anne Marie Graham, chief executive of UKCISA who said the backlog will increase the longer the VACs remain closed.

“We are concerned that the backlog will become too large to handle in time for students to enter the UK in time to start their course of study,” she said.

However, the task of reopening centres and getting visas processed does not just depend on governments, according to Peter Yetton, head of VISA/assistant academic registrar at Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland.

“You’ve got to get people back into the visa application centres,” he said.

“[Then ask] can they start working right away or do they need to be quarantined?”

Additionally, Yetton said, banks and financial sponsors will need to be available for assessment by the Home Office and UKVI.

“They will need to look and check, in some countries, the financial viability of that student [if they are] coming into the UK,” he added.

Catriona Jackson, chief executive of Universities Australia told The PIE that the organisation is aware of the “significant disruption to processing” caused by visa application centre closures.

“There are also a number of services relating to the visa application process that has been impacted by Covid-19 in many jurisdictions.

“These include access to panel doctors who conduct medical checks, English language facilities and biometric collection service delivery partners,” Jackson said.

Groups including UUKi and The American Council on Education are advocating for flexibility from their respective governments when it comes to requirements such as in-person interviews and biometrics.

“The longer this goes on the more difficult that will be”

“It is something we have been communicating with the department of state and asking for flexibility,” said Sarah Spreitzer, director, department of government and public affairs at ACE.

“So, for instance, could they allow for a virtual interview for a student applicant? Could they waive the in-person interview for those applicants that meet all of the other requirements and don’t appear to be ineligible?

“They’ve been doing that for some other non-immigrant visas, because of the fact that a lot of the consulates are closed,” she said.

Universities are currently preparing for outcomes where students are not able to reach campuses.

Plans include students starting their courses online before coming onto campus for face-to-face teaching once they are able to travel- although this may cause complications with post study work rights.

“We are very much hoping that students will be able to start their studies online and again for that not to have an implication for their post-graduate work permit program,” said Cindy McIntyre, assistant director of international relations at Universities Canada.

There is also a risk that the uncertainty around visa applications will make students less likely to decide to study abroad, according to Sushil Sukhwani, director of majorIndian agency Edwise.

Sukhwani also explained that commercial issues might arise around agent/university contracts and online/remote learning as a substitute.

“There’s a possibility that institutions may not have worded in their contracts that commission will be paid to agents for online programs, and whether the commission will be the same or less.

“People haven’t even started looking at that… but that is a potential concern,” he added.

The PIE approached the UK’s Home Office, the US Department of State and Canada’s department for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship for comment but did not receive a reply prior to publication.

The PIE Video this week includes interviews with Stern and Sukwhani on this topic.

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61 Responses to Visa application issues could stop students reaching universities

  1. The VACs can indeed open for biometrics and visa submission/processing while the face to face interviews can be done virtually

  2. I am in Oman with my future wife. She is from Ukraine and I am British. We had to cancel our wedding plans and now find ourselves in the place we have lived and worked for 2 years. Without the visa application centres open and the borders we have no choice but to sit and wait watching our funds dwindle, it means we probably won’t be able to marry or even be together

  3. This is a disturbing issue as most of us are victims to delay in visas due to the convid. I believe things will work out soon.

  4. Many are applying for schools abroad despite the convid. Application goes with visa and once the old ones have not been worked on, there is going it is posible that, the challenges at the visa section is going to be high.

  5. I am a prospective student. I missed writing my IELTS. I was able to do the Speaking test. The Saturday that I was to do the writing, listening and reading was when my home country Ghana locked down. I am not happy about the the situation. I hold an offer.
    Additionally, I will say that Ghana is an English speaking country so we should be exempted from this IELTS.
    Thank you 😊

  6. Sir please let me know when the VFS will be opened.
    And Can I apply for the September intake In UK. IS it risky?

  7. My settlemwnt visa application (with 498 required psges of supporting information) to go to the UK and live with my husband went into the New York processing center aiong with my passport one week prior to shutdown. Along with nearly 4500 dollars in application and NHS fees. Their website just indicates the center is closed, I have not received any information. You have to provide credit card details prior to speaking with anyone just to ask a question! Even then an automated recording suggests you send an email.

  8. What will be the effect on students who have to complete their last semester, specially those on Scholarship programs and they are back home but could not get the renewal of their visa specially from Scandinavian Counties, how will they be treated if they any how get the renewal and have to travel from countries still on lockdown


    One of the many things that gets affected for the international students during this pandemic situation would be the inability to take the English language tests such as IELTS. In some cases, certain students might hold an unconditional offer but their existing IELTS score card could be nearing expiry date and they could be unable to take the exam again due to unavailability of exam centres. This could really increase the level of anxiety in them and in the end it might affect their preparation for the studies.

    In the event this pandemic situation eases, in such rare cases, the Visa Application Centres, provided they start functioning, can extend the validity of the IELTS score card for another 6 months. This might seem a little out of the box but, considering the time frame (which would be the Nick of time) to apply for the visa and prepare other things for travel, this step would really ease the pressure off the students as they have to prepare for the studies amidst the uncertainty. And this could also help the UK government’s education sector during this time of huge financial crisis.

  10. The main issue is that the international students during this pandemic situation would be the inability to take the English language tests such as IELTS. In some cases, certain students might hold an conditional offer but their IELTS testing cannot be conducted before September intake. The expiry date of their conditional offer is nearing and they could be unable to take the exam due to unavailability of exam centres. My honest opinion and suggestion is that considering the time frame better to process the Visas without IELTS.This step would really help students to ease the pressure and for universities to overcome huge financial burden..

  11. Can I apply for canadian visa without giving biometric cause the vfs office was closed please help me by giving valuable advice

  12. Good request for asking perhaps, IELTs certificate extension, but how about those who needs to sit for exam?

  13. These are genuine concerns. Universities have antiquated admission process thinking one process fits students from all over the world such as reference letters, recommendation letters while at the same time not recognising the awards, certificates,reliving letters given by employers.There should be a separate process for experienced professionals and freshers.Certificates and awards given by some employers take more rigorous criteria than by the universities.Getting reference certificates,official transcripts etc will involve visit to the campus.Due to the current quarantine restrictions,these things will take even more time.
    Either the universities could start the program online for one trimester and then shift to offline if the conditions stabilize or re-evaluate the situation after one trimester.Completely cancelling the admission for one year will have an effect on University revenue stream as well as professors salaries

  14. I was apply UK visit visa on 11 march 2020 but still my passport not come back because all VSF centres closed in Dubai can you tell me when VSF open in Dubai? If VSF no open with in 2 months then what can I do for my passport have any way? Because I want to travel my country

  15. You are providing good information all students are in great anxiety especially those who have applied on in international univerisities

  16. Is there any chance student can apply visa for new zealand ? or they can reach newzealand or not ?

  17. My husband is awaiting the VAC’s to reopen so he can apply for a spouse visa from Turkey to the UK. Does anyone have any idea of when the VAC’s will reopen

  18. What would happen to those students that got the short term visa but couldn’t travel because the pandemic. They were not able to start their course already paid in full and their visa is about to run out?
    Thank you

  19. I got my passport back with study visa in February and was making arrangements to travel for Spring resumption in Canada by May. With the lockdown in Nigeria and school closure in Canada I was not able to travel. I have gotten a new offer letter from the school for resumption for Fall term in September. My concerns now are these:
    1. The medical with which I applied for the visa just expired last week (1st week of May), would I be required to take another medical test or would my medical be automatically extended? I understand under normal circumstances I am expected to be in Canada before the end of the validity of the medical.
    2. Since the results are usually sent confidentiality to the consular, it means I would not be able to present any certificate to immigration officers at the POE. Don’t I stand a risk of being turned back at the POE?
    3. If 2 is a possibility, do I need to inform CIC in Nigeria and get any document from them to present to the immigration officer at the POE?

    4. In view of the covid 19, how close to resumption date is it advisable for me to travel as I would not know if there would be a requirement for mandatory quarantine or isolation for some number of days?

    Please could someone who is in a good position to do so please advise me on these concerns.

  20. I applied for university and part of their requirements is for you to do the second legalization but due to this enmity most of the embassy are closed
    So what are we suppose to do to avoid any delayance

  21. Is this just for UK or will it also be applied to other countries? ‘Cause Canada is allowing student visa applications and entry after being quarantined for 14 days. Also, Australia is likely to open visa applications by July this year, so maybe it wont be that bad after all.

  22. Visa application centre should be opened and biometric should be taken later. Let the student study and vusa centre should slowly start process at backoffice . Don’t waste the valuable time of all students

  23. Why can’t you stay in your home countries and learn remotely like us college students have done these last 12 weeks? Most international students never go back to their home countries and make life better where they came from. This is just their way of getting out of their home countries and finding a way to stay here.

  24. Plz am undergraduate student who is interested in studying abroad please help me if there is a chance going to UK

  25. A holistic approach is reasonably expected by various universities in Europe and North American as regards stringent requirements for illegibility of prospective students.,especially for PhD students coming for research. There’s no gain saying that the pandemic situation rocking economies globally has not affected potentially, the finances of prospective candidates.
    In retrospect of the effect of this pandemic, a softer measures or palliative is expected, considerably from educational bodies in a bid to accommodate as many candidates as possible for the fall or better still, Winter semester. The gross damage on financial proprieties of intending students will definitely drop the toll of coming students who have spent a lot in the lockdown.
    To this end, educational organisations should explore the avenue of rendering scholarships to viable/excellent students who has a greater propensity for scholarly activities for their intending institutions.

  26. I have an unconditional offer from a UK University for the MBA program and my IELTS score card is expiring this month. When I asked my University whether I should take IELTS again before applying for the Visa they said I don’t have to as they are considering 2.5 years instead of 2 years as the validity period, ie, until September. Also it will be reflected in the CAS letter that I have met every condition. Can someone give your opinion on this?

  27. I got an offer for Fall 2020. I have payed first semester fees and waiting for visa process to start.Even if I cannot travel to Canada at-least I will have a valid visa to start online classes. When will embassy open for visa ?

  28. Sir I have done my ielts exam in September 2019 ..I got an offer letter from college and also I pay my all fees as well as GIC account medical was also done,😥 but I was not able to apply my visa …can you tell me when embassy open in Canada … And I can apply my visa for September intake ..and how much possibility that the September intake students will go to Canada…

  29. Well said. One thing I hope UK and Irish Shared Visa Center can be open to is that to allow differential reopening depending on the visa categories. As we all know, there are visa applications not just for student/ tourism purposes, there are hundreds of thousands of people desperate to apply for work visas! Our employers are waiting for us to be back to UK/Ireland to start work normally.

    I think work visa applications should be allowed first as a pilot trial.

  30. It is suggested to start online study for September 2020 intake (to avoid wastage of study time) once (after few months) Covid-19 will be fixed, students could be allowed to travel to UK to complete their rest of study on face to face basis. However, the students must be given PSW option as an attraction to start their study by paying Universities fee. It seems very difficult that September 2020 can be on-campus for new International students, currently applying outside of UK.

  31. When will the turkish visa office open .my turkish son in law applied to come for a visit .but the lock down has put the visa application still waiting for the papplication to be granted .he applied before the lock down .

  32. I am education consultant in Pakistan working for students. I suggest to introduce some e visa system for students once they reached to the destination airports biomatrics will be collected..

  33. I received a biometrics order but the centres are still closed ..and the date of the order will due soon .What am I going to do .Please help me to settle this issue.Thanking in advance

  34. I am a Bangladeshi student, have submitted application for Masters level, unfortunately, the pre enrollment process was halted due to continued closer of VISA processing office led by Italian Embassy.

    It has been more than 16 weeks running their activities are completely shut off and no effective measures taken yet to reopen either digital or manual.
    It is now quite uncertain, whether, I would be able to join the September session or continue isolation.

  35. Covid-19 have brought a huge change in visa processing, and international student application.

    I think it would take 2021 to return to normal states that was before Covid crisis.

  36. Dear sir/ ma’am
    I’m shagun verma from India and I applied for 2021 January intake as student visa and applied on 24 October for visa and on 25 November I filled webform for my biometric appointment date but until now I didn’t get any response.
    Can you tell me how much it take time because it’s being late for me .
    Thank you.

  37. After you receive your acceptance package from SIMO, you are to apply for a student visa at a Russian General Consulate or a Russian Embassy. Please check the student visa requirements at a Russian consulate in your country of residence well in advance.

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