LONDON -- The UK government is finalising plans to cut annual student visa figures by nearly half, from the current 3,00,000 to 1,70,000, a media report said on Monday amid a sharp fall in students coming to the country from outside Europe including India.
Some university chiefs are also warning that many Indian students are already being denied visas on minor grounds as part of a wider move to cut immigration into the UK.
"They are telling some students there is exactly the same quality of course available in India so why are you coming here. That is outrageous," a UK vice-chancellor was quoted as saying by the Guardian newspaper.
The move comes despite recent UK Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures indicating there has been a drastic drop in students coming to the UK from outside Europe.
"There was a statistically significant decline in the number of non-EU citizens migrating to the UK to study, from 1,34,000 in the previous year to 1,11,000...There was a statistically significant decline in citizens of South Asia, with the number coming to study having almost halved," ONS said in its 'Migration Statistics Quarterly Report: August 2016'.
India is the third-largest category in terms of student visa applications after the US and China, with 10,664 granted between June 2015 and 2016.
"International students contribute, directly and indirectly, 14 billion pounds to the UK economy, making higher education one of this country's most valuable exports...Over the last five years, the number of Indian students attending UK universities has halved. I have consistently asked the government to remove students from the net migration target," said Lord Bilimoria, leading Indian-origin entrepreneur and Cobra Beer founder, who himself came to the UK as a student.
"We should immediately re-introduce the two-year post-study work visa, which I fought hard to introduce before its withdrawal in 2012, to allow foreign students to implement their much-needed skills here and help boost our economy," he added.
During British Prime Minister Theresa May's visit to India last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had stressed on the importance of access for Indian students to UK institutions.
"Education is vital for our students and will define our engagement in a shared future. We must therefore encourage greater mobility and participation of young people in educational and research opportunities," PM Modi had told May in his address at the UK India Tech Summit in New Delhi.
However, senior university sources indicate the UK Home Office is on track for some dramatic immigration cuts in student visa numbers. While it has dismissed rumours of an annual cutback of more than two-thirds, the likely cut to around 1,70,000 seems likely to be enforced.
A UK Home Office spokesperson said: "Claims the Home Office is modelling cuts to reduce international students to a third [ie 100,000 a year] are categorically untrue".
"We want to strengthen the system to support the best universities - and those that stick to the rules - to attract the best talent. The British people have sent a clear message that they want more control of immigration and we are committed to getting net migration down to sustainable levels in the tens of thousands," he said.
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