UK clamps down, France eases visas to attract students

Just a week after reports that the United Kingdom is considering imposing cash bonds on Indian students entering the country, France has announced a slew of measures, including easing certain visa rules, to attract Indian students to its higher education institutions.

Special attention will now be given to students living far from any French consulate or office of Campus France – the governmental agency promoting French higher education – in an attempt to simplify and expedite visa procedures.

France has also decided to considerably ease conditions for obtaining a work visa after studies completed in France, which will allow increased numbers of students graduating from French business and engineering schools to stay on for work experience in France.

In parallel, visa applications by Indian academics and officials will be examined as a matter of priority, François Richier, France’s ambassador to India, said in New Delhi last Thursday. He described the new measures as a “package”.

“It is about opening our arms and hearts for Indian students by facilitating their stay, not only in the visa area but other things like training, and taking care of jobs when they are back in India,” Richier told local media.

UK comparison

France’s announcement is in direct contrast to the UK’s new visa rules, which aim to curb immigration from countries in Africa and Asia including India and Pakistan, but which will also affect foreign students wanting to enter the UK for studies.

When asked about changes in the UK’s visa rules for students from India, Richier said: “There is no competition between the UK and us. We have our own visa policy; they [the UK] have their own visa policy.”

But comparisons with the UK’s approach are inevitable, and prospective students are now seeing a clear advantage in some countries, such as France and Canada.

“France definitely scores above the UK in terms of hospitality. Over the last year, I have been reading reports about what Indian students cannot do in the UK. But for France, I can see opportunities even after I complete my masters degree,” said Shivani Gupta, a final-year engineering student at Anna University in Chennai.

Under new UK rules announced in June, some individuals will have to furnish a ‘bond’ or deposit of £3,000 (US$4,500), which they would have to forfeit if they overstayed in Britain. Students are included in the measure although the ‘bond’ is not aimed specifically at them.

Other proposals made in recent weeks include charging international students a fee to use Britain’s National Health Service, which has been free to international students until now.

In Britain, changes to the post-study work visa that came into effect from April last year removed the option for most foreign students of staying on and working for two years after their studies.

Under new rules, students can stay for three years post-study only if they find “graduate-level jobs” on salaries of £20,000 or higher.

Notably, the UK’s proposed new visa rules have been described as “a deterrent” by India's Human Resource Development Minister MM Pallam Raju.

“I believe it will be a temporary deterrent. We will make all diplomatic efforts to negate the impact on student mobility,” Raju said at a briefing on the India-US higher education dialogue that took place last month.

French efforts

France is making efforts to raise the number of Indian students in France by 50% in the coming five years.

Almost 2,600 Indian students opted for higher education in France in 2012, a jump of 50% over the past five years. The vast majority of these students attend the more than 700 courses taught in English in France, the number of which is increasing every year.

In order to facilitate travel to France for all Indian citizens who have studied there, Richier said that, as of 14 July, all Indian citizens who have graduated from a French higher education institution subsequently applying for a tourist or business visa for a trip to France will be given a visa with a long period of validity – up to five years if the studies in France were at the masters or PhD levels.

Richier said the new visa measures had been taken at the embassy level and were applicable to Indian students only.

UK drop

Britain’s stringent norms on student visas have resulted in a sharp decline in the number of Indian students in higher education there. Students going to the UK from India fell by 23.5% overall, including a 28% drop at postgraduate level in the past year.

Figures released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency last January showed that fewer than 30,000 students from India were studying in UK higher education institutions in 2011-12, compared to around 40,000 the previous year.

There is some evidence that Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron is looking at other measures to attract top international students, according to a memo from his office to the department that handles universities and research, published in the UK’s The Times newspaper last week.

Some of the suggestions from the prime minister’s office include shortening the route to British citizenship for those studying for doctorates in science and technology subjects, from five years of residency to three.

But political commentators have said that such ideas would not go down well with the UK Home Office, which handles immigration and which tends to regard higher education as a ‘backdoor’ to immigration.