uk visa delays
Many countries, including the UK, are still facing a backlog of delays in visa processing. Source: Daniel Leal / AFP

From those seeking to enter Australia or Canada or facing UK visa delays, the struggle to travel to university overseas is one faced by students worldwide. There have been a myriad of issues that have prevented students from returning or entering their higher education countries — all of which result in missing orientation, key start-of-term events, and opportunities to settle in before classes start. 

This is not an issue faced solely by students, either. Everyone from famed international athletes to well-known actors have not been able to travel due to delays in visa processing. Filipino actress Kris Bernal faced this in her travels to London earlier this year, which she was forced to reschedule because of UK visa delays. 

“When we were deciding which country to replace London (due to our UK Visa arriving late), I asked my husband if we could visit Switzerland instead, primarily because I wanted to visit some of [“Crash Landing on You”’s] filming locations,” she posted on Instagram.

Border services in other countries, such as Canada, are still having issues processing student visas, too. For some, visas were delayed for up to three months — a shocking statistic for such a major higher education destination. 

Why, however, are so many students and travellers facing visa delays worldwide? There are many complex reasons for this, but most of it boils down to one significant event: the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Students enrolled in Canada are being unable to travel to their universities. Source: Geoff Robins / AFP

The reason behind US, Australian, Canadian and UK visa delays 

Visa delays are not a new phenomenon, but have certainly been made worse by the effects of the pandemic. Much of this has to do with the fact that border control services across all countries were closed over most of 2020 and 2021. 

In 2021, data from a QS coronavirus student survey showed that 63% of respondents said the pandemic affected their plans to study abroad, with 55% choosing to defer or delay their studies until next year. This was due to a number of different factors, but ultimately culminated in a third of students looking to study abroad being unable to due to delays in visa processing.

“There are issues with a number of visa application centres, with premium or fast-tracked appointments not on offer, and with some centres actually closed due to the coronavirus pandemic,” international education support service Univerna writes. “This is of course extremely frustrating for students, who often only have a short window of time in which to get their visa application sorted out once they’ve been accepted onto their course of study.”

Of these, the portal pointed out that students faced UK visa delays because of problems with their CAS (Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies) being issued. These would typically be provided by the student’s university. 

“CAS numbers, an electronic document proving that you have been accepted onto a course of study at a particular university, are essential for all international students coming to study in the UK to obtain their visas,” Univerna explains. “Due to ongoing upheaval at universities in the UK, including a reduction in facilities and staff, CAS requests are taking too long to process, with some students not getting theirs in time to start the academic year.”

In Australia, student visa delays are primarily due to the large backlog of immigration papers that need to be processed. Defence Housing Australia (DHA) reported a large influx of applications since the opening of its borders, with an increased backlog due to two years of border closures. 

Visa delays are affecting students’ decisions for an overseas education. Source: Ben Stansall/AFP

The consequences of student visa delays

This has had serious consequences on universities and higher education countries worldwide. In April 2022, the number of international students that arrived in Australia reduced by 52.5% in comparison to April 2019 — and statistics in other major countries are showing the same trend. 

Canadian, Australian and UK visa delays among others are affecting many students’ decisions to study abroad. Most of them are filing visa applications much further in advance than is usual for typical study programmes for fear of delays. However, many students are also opting to pull out of their universities. 

“IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) study permit timeline goes up to 12 weeks but we have been waiting since the month of January for our visa results,” Akashdeep Singh, a resident of Punjab who wants to study in Canada, told The Free Press Journal. “Our files have also not been checked. [They] have been stuck in the backlog for months and many of us have already deferred their intakes. If we don’t get the visa on time, we will have to defer again or withdraw completely.”