Student visas for UK and US pick up, but Canada slumps
It is believed that the political row with India leading to a reduction in Canada’s diplomatic staff in India could have deterred some Indian students from applying to Canadian universities as visa concerns weigh heavily on their minds. Despite this, Canada remains a preferred destination for many Indian students.
The UK Home Office has revealed that the number of sponsored study visas issued to Indians has surged remarkably in recent years. In the year ending June 2023, 142,848 sponsored study visas were granted to Indians, marking a significant jump of 54% compared to the preceding year. India now holds the distinction of being the leading country in terms of sponsored study visas issued by the UK.
Several factors have contributed to this increase in study visas to Indian students.
The UK is a favoured destination for Indian students, offering world-class education, a variety of courses to choose from and a robust job market. Besides, the UK government has implemented measures to facilitate visa procedures for Indian students which include reducing the visa application fee and introducing a new graduate visa route, among others.
According to the latest statistics, a total of 98,394 graduate route extensions were approved up to June, with over two-fifths (42%) being Indians. Earlier this year, the UK had declared that masters students would not be permitted to bring dependants with them from next year, although postgraduate research course students can still bring dependants after 2024.
US processed more than a million Indian visas
The US has processed more than one million Indian visas in 2023, with 95,000 successful applications for Indian students.
The country has grappled with application backlogs following the resumption of international travel after the pandemic, with numerous applicants reporting extended waiting periods.
But the US State Department has since taken several initiatives to tackle the backlogs, including recruiting additional staff, extending opening hours, and increasing interview waiver eligibility along with the opening of a new consulate in the southern city of Hyderabad. These measures have contributed to a better experience for Indian students, according to education consultants.
The US Embassy in New Delhi is handling about 20% more applications than in pre-pandemic 2019. The Embassy has surpassed the target of issuing one million visas to Indians in 2023.
Fewer visa applications for Canada
This is in sharp contrast with the situation in Canada, which has fewer diplomats in India than before. Education institutions may see a decline in the number of Indian students going to Canada.
India is by far Canada’s largest source of international students and immigrants, but as yet there has been little diplomatic headway in mending the bilateral ties. The mobility of tourists, business people and students has been affected, leading certain educational agents to explore alternative destinations for their students.
Canada’s Immigration Minister Marc Miller told reporters in Ottawa last month that the ongoing diplomatic tussle between his country and India is likely to cause delays in the visa processing of Indians seeking to go to Canada.
The cause for the slowdown is India’s request that Canada curtail the number of its diplomats in India. Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly has said that 41 Canadian diplomats have already left and just 21 remain in India.
Miller said during a meeting of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) had originally aimed to process 38,000 visas for Indians by December 2023 but the department will only manage to process 20,000 visas due to limited resources and staff.
Miller emphasised the pivotal role students from India play in Canada and said the IRCC will continue to welcome them. He said Canada’s designated learning institutions will continue to accept students but new applications will be processed more slowly than before.
Diplomatic tussle may reduce Indian student numbers
Education consultants in India feel the diplomatic tussle could impact upon the number of students proceeding to Canada for higher education studies.
Maria Mathai, founder and director of MM Advisory Services, a Delhi-based education consultancy, said: “For 2023, for Canada, the data would be available in January 2024, so I guess we will know comparative performance only then.
Regarding students who are seeking postgraduate diploma admissions in Canada for the January 2024 intake, Mathai added: “there is going to be some impact given that visa processing is likely to be impacted somewhat”.
Mathai said students applying to universities for degree programmes in Canada for September 2023 will not see much difference because visa issuance would have happened before the diplomatic incident.
Gyan Saxena, a student in New Delhi who is planning to go to Canada for a masters course in pharmacology, said that he will redirect plans towards the US or UK if possible as advised by his agent. “The stand-off between the two countries is affecting the number of Indian students heading to Canada this year,” said Saxena.
New verification process
Meanwhile, Canada has announced a new verification process for international students after a visa fraud came to the fore in June this year. About 700 Indian students were found to be victims of the fraud and face risk of deportation.
The new rule involves verification of the ‘letter of acceptance’, a prerequisite to obtain a study permit in the country, and will come into effect from 1 December 2023.
About the new verification process, Mathai said it is a procedural step between the Canadian government and the institution that merely has to confirm that they have indeed issued the letter of acceptance. There are no new requirements from students. So the impact will only be on students who do not have a legitimate letter of acceptance but would have previously got visas.
Mathai told University World News: “In a nutshell, there is likely to be a drop in Canada numbers but not because the US and UK have had record numbers. The factors are specific to Canada, specifically the postgraduate diploma numbers that are most likely to be impacted.”
Concerns about potential risks
Vivek Jain, chief business officer at Shiksha.com, a website focused on providing detailed and comprehensive information on higher education in India and abroad, said Canada has been a preferred destination for Indian students for several years due to its excellent education system, welcoming policies and post-graduation work opportunities.
However, the recent visa fraud incident involving the 700 Indian students has understandably raised concerns about the application process and the potential risks involved.
He told University World News that the new verification process in Canada, set to take effect from 1 December, is designed to create a more robust system for verifying letters of acceptance.
“This move is a positive step in ensuring that students are protected from fraudulent activities and that such incidents are prevented in the future. It’s essential, though, that the process remains efficient and not overly cumbersome for genuine students,” he said.
Jain explained that the ongoing diplomatic issues with Canada may have led some students to explore alternative options for their higher education. Potential visa delays could influence students to consider starting their programmes in the autumn intake of 2024 instead of the summer intake. As a result, students are also looking at other countries that have been popular choices, including the US, the UK, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand.