The fate of some 16,000 international students studying in Uganda hangs in the balance, after the country’s ministry of internal affairs asked learning institutions to ensure that their students’ status are legalised by acquiring student visas.
The ministry says that the students have been studying and residing in the country illegally.
“Ugandan laws require that every foreigner seeking education in the county must register with the immigration department, and we are telling learning institutions that this requirement must be observed,” said Geoffrey Kambere, Uganda’s Commissioner for Immigration.
Universities and international schools in the country host some 20,000 foreign learners according to the National Council of Higher Education, and many of them, according to Kambere, have not “regularised” their stay in the country.
The government had reportedly streamlined the process of applying for student visas, and students can now apply for the document online without physically going to the immigration offices – as has been the case in the past, he told a recent meeting with learning institution representatives.
“Ugandan laws require that every foreigner seeking education in the county must register with the immigration department”
“The institutions will be taken through the process and be sensitised on the importance of legalising students, so that they can assist foreign learners comply with the law,” the commissioner added.
At the meeting in the capital Kampala, representatives of the institutions blamed the high numbers of unregistered students on bureaucracy at the immigration office.
“We have been willing and ready to comply with the requirements of the immigration but there have been challenges with delays in the pass application process and in issuance of visas,” Grace Birundu, of Galaxy International School, told local broadcaster NTV television.
The requirement that students provide contact details of a Ugandan relative or guardian while registering with immigration was also an obstacle she noted.
“We have been willing and ready to comply with the requirements of the immigration but there have been challenges”
Immigration officials have been threatening to deport students whose status had not been legalised, according to Winfred Nassiwa, dean of students at Victoria University; one of the leading hosts of foreign students in the country.
This made university officials spend hours at immigration offices trying to prove to officials that the students were indeed in the country to study and were enrolled with them, she recounted.
Uganda is one of the leading foreign students’ destinations in Africa. It enrols students from around the continent mainly due to low fees, program flexibility and use of English as language of instruction, according to Alex Kagume, of the higher education council.