To enhance the visa system experience for incoming international students, the United Kingdom Visas and Immigration (UKVI) has introduced flexibility in visa rules, with health precautions throughout the visa system, along with its visa services partner VFS Global.
According to data from UKVI, almost 50,000 student visas to the UK were granted to Indian nationals in the year ending March 2020. This was a 136 percent increase from the year ending March 2019. This increase was the largest number of grants to Indian students since the year ending September 2011.
Globally, in the year ending March 2020, almost 3,00,000 student visas were granted (including dependents). This is a 23 percent increase on the year ending March 2019 and the highest level since the year ending June 2011.
Since July 6 this year, UK Visa Application Centres have re-opened in 11 cities in India in a phased manner: Ahmedabad, Bengaluru (Global Tech Park only), Chandigarh, Chennai, Jalandhar, Kochi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai (Mahalaxmi only), New Delhi (Shivaji Metro Stadium only), and Pune - and these centres are receiving Tier 4 applications.
VFS Global has established standardised protective measures to be followed across all its UK Visa Application Centres, including a mandatory online appointment system, besides checking body temperature of all customers at the entrance, and maintaining physical distancing measures. Disinfecting high-contact surfaces, body temperature screenings, use of hand sanitisers, regular hand washing, etc are also mandated.
To limit the disruption caused by ongoing Covid-19 travel restrictions, UKVI is allowing incoming international students to apply for study (Tier 4) visa when they are due to travel to the UK, rather than at the start of their course. This means students who have already gained admission can begin their courses online and apply for a UK study visa when they are ready to do so.
The new Graduate Immigration Route that allows students who complete undergraduate or Master's degrees to stay and work, look for work, and gain experience in the UK for up to two years (three years for PhD students) from Summer 2021, has been modified to accommodate students who start their courses overseas, online. These students will be eligible to apply for the Graduate Route, provided they are in the UK before 6 April 2021 and complete the final semester of their studies in the UK.
The Graduate Immigration Route policy was announced in September 2019 to help the UK attract and retain even more of the best international graduates from India, ensuring those graduates secure skilled jobs and contribute to the UK's economic growth.
According to David Ratcliffe, UK Visas and Immigration Regional Director, South and South East Asia, "Over the last few years we have seen a huge increase in the number of Indian students choosing the UK's world-class higher-education system as the destination for their studies. Despite the challenges of coronavirus, we are confident that many thousands more will join their compatriots at university in the UK this autumn.
"For those travellers, our message is clear: your safety is our highest priority. Throughout the visa application process and your travel to the UK, we are taking measures to ensure you are safe and secure. In addition, the new Graduate Route is guaranteed to open next summer - meaning those students heading to the UK this autumn will be able to apply for 2 years additional post-study leave to kick start their career in the UK."
All visa customers, including students, can also avail of the optional On-Demand Mobile Visa service that enables them to submit their visa application and enroll biometrics from the comfort and safety of their home. Once a visa decision is reached, passports can be couriered to the customer's home.
Vinay Malhotra, Regional Group Chief Operating Officer (South Asia, Middle East & North Africa and Americas), VFS Global, said, "As borders re-open and travel resumes, we are committed to maintaining the highest standards of health and safety precautions according to the guidelines of the World Health Organisation and local authorities. We are conscious that this is the time students will be applying for visas to travel to the UK for higher education, and would like to reassure them of a safe and seamless visa application process, at our Centres or via the doorstep service."
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