The UK has stopped the abuse of its student visas granted to Indian citizens, but the move is now seen as unwelcoming to international students, a top UK government official revealed to the Hindustan Times newspaper.
By closing down bogus higher education institutes that act as a pretext for Indians to enter the UK illegally to work and live under student visas, the overall number of Indian students in the UK dropped by more than half between 2010/11 and 2015/16.
But the official maintains the number of genuine Indian students has stayed the same, with some improvement recently.
“All that has happened is that we have stopped our student visa being abused for non-education purposes, but the perception is that we are unwelcoming of international students,” the UK government official said.
The British government has been facing backlash ever since the ruling Conservative party made its 2010 announcement to bring net migration targets down to tens of thousands and the subsequent moves that followed it.
One of them was the crackdown on bogus colleges and students, including imposing stricter visa requirements, by then-Home Secretary Theresa May, now prime minister. Last year, May had dismissed the call by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s to liberalise the visa system and open doors to UK universities as she said the current system was generous enough.
The abuse of student visas is said to be part of a larger problem India faces as the country with the highest number of illegal migrants in the UK, a situation unresolved and straining bilateral relations between the two countries.
According to the official, there are more than 100,000 illegal migrants from India in the UK, twice the number of those from Nigeria, which has the 2nd highest number of illegal migrants.
India also tops the list in terms of having the largest number of voluntary returns of illegal migrants. Twenty-two percent of all returns from the UK in 2016 were Indians.