UK visa agency changes will benefit international students

Aminul Haque is a computer science student at Keele University who prepared for UK study at the Study Group ISC on Keele’s campus. This is his take on recent changes to the UK Border Agency, based on his own experiences.

The latest big news to affect students that want to study in the UK is the government's decision to drastically reorganise the country's border agency, whose responsibilities included managing visa applications. 

Unfortunately, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) had been struggling to keep up with its workload, leading to some mistakes and oversights that resulted in high profile news stories of families stranded over Christmas or entire applications being lost and leaving people in immigration limbo.

The fact that its government has taken action is the best sign yet that the UK takes international study seriously and wants to make it easy for genuine students to come to its universities. Despite the UKBA's problems having been something that affected me directly, I'm glad I could come to the UK to study. It has always been my dream and it's an opportunity I think everyone should take if they can, because Britain is a great place with a brilliant academic history.

I used the services of the UKBA twice. My first experience was excellent in the sense that I applied for my first visa personally, without the services of a visa consultant, which the majority of students from my country would probably use. The instructions were crystal clear and I was called for an interview four days after my bio-metrics were taken and my visa was issued the following day - all on time and as expected.

A few months later, however, I went back home to Bangladesh and had to re-apply for a visa, because I had changed my university. This time the UKBA took four weeks to issue my visa and it was very difficult to get updates on my application's progress.

The estimate on the website didn't budge from '15 days' the whole time and there was no way to know the status of my application other than the web tracking which simply showed three stages: 'Application received', 'Application under process' and 'Your application has been processed'. I was stuck on the second stage alone for more than 20 days and although the university and my International Study Centre were very supportive, it was a frustrating and worrying experience as my course start-date came and went.

This is not a typical experience - as I said, first time around everything was fine and I have a few friends from back home who also study in the UK and they have never had a major issue. But there is unfortunately no shortage of stories about bad experiences with UKBA on different internet forums and in the mainstream press.

Because there was always the danger that these kinds of mistakes would discourage students coming to the UK I think splitting the UKBA and forming a department dedicated to only visas is a great step by the government. 

Assuming this is not just a re-branding exercise, we can reasonably hope that operations will be more efficient as the visa section will be brought back fully into the Home Office and report directly to ministers. When the changes are complete, international students should find the system more responsive and easier to navigate.

Improvements I would recommend from personal experience include strictly following advised processing times and, if more time is required, then better communication will be key to minimising disruption.

I'm back home in Bangladesh as I write this now, but will have to apply for a visa extension when I go back the UK after the summer break - I'm looking forward to seeing how the system has improved.

Aminul Haque is a computer science student at Keele University who prepared for UK study at the Study Group ISC on Keele’s campus.