A boom in professional short course numbers has indicated that six month visitor visas were at a bottleneck in the spring, and could be at the same time in 2023, according to stakeholders.
Independent HE said that the idea of having both study and tourism stints that are under six months in one visa may not be viable – especially when it is affecting movement of students altogether.
“It started off in spring when there was a massive delay in the visitor visa – across all the visas,” Joy Elliott-Bowman, director of policy and development at IHE, told The PIE News.
“They began rushing through the [long-term] student visas, but they didn’t really do anything about the [bottleneck on] visitor visas,” she explained.
The standard visitor visa, which was launched in December 2020 by the UK government, allows people to visit the country for up to six months without leaving – and includes motives for entry such as studying English, sitting entrance exams for higher education, doing electives and professional short courses.
The subsequent bottleneck caused by the stagnation of visitor visa issuances meant that students, in turn, missed courses in the summer – resulting in a recent boom, especially for IHE members, Elliott-Bowman relayed, in students in the latest short course intake.
“What’s become apparent is that [short course students] numbers are not tracked particularly well,” she noted.
UKVI data requested by IHE suggests that the countries that are experiencing a rise in interest for long term student visas are also experiencing, coincidentally, a very time-sensitive rise in visitor visa interest – at the same time that the majority of professional courses are happening.
Due to priorities made on visas for displaced Ukrainian citizens in May 2022, as well as issues in April 2022, this may have been exacerbated even further.
“We fixed the visa delays in the student route, but we haven’t fixed visa delays in the visitor visa route, in any which way, shape or form,” Elliott-Bowman surmised.
“We can’t be equating the experience of a student trying to get here for a two month course once a year and someone hoping to get a visa for a beach holiday in Cornwall.
“It’s a different cost, and it’s a different situation,” Elliott-Bowman added.
Currently, according to the government, visitor visas are taking an average of 5 weeks to process – recent analysis by the Evening Standard also confirmed that over 60,000 visitor visas took over 50 days to process.
With no way of tracking which of those are for short courses, English language courses or tourism, it demonstrates the difficulties posed for those who want to study in the UK for less than six months.
“There needs to be a recognition of the difference in the visitor visa route for students”
Elliott-Bowman said that work had been done to start tracking all education-related exports – including revenue from TNE, higher education and English language learning – but because the visitor visa didn’t specify, it wasn’t enough and didn’t include thousands in revenue coming from professional short course students.
“We need to start tracking professional short courses earlier, in the visitor visa application process – if the purpose of coming is to study, they should have to indicate that the provider is accredited. So there has to be an indication in the application form that says they’re coming for study,” said Elliott-Bowman.
While she is confident that some of the visa backlog has come from the issues surrounding the Ukraine war, it is still something that needs to be addressed before it possibly occurs again next year.
“There needs to be a recognition of the difference in the visitor visa route for students – there is that need for speed, the expectation – the costs that students are outlying to come and do these courses – and the [need to maintain] reputation,” she added.