Leader: Visa charges will harm market viability of UK

August 8, 2003

For overseas students who are paying tens of thousands of pounds for a British degree, another £155 for a visa extension (or even £250 for a so-called premium service) might seem a drop in the ocean. When the controversy over the charges blew up, many outside observers were surprised that the service had previously been free. But who can justify the profiteering involved in setting the extension fee at four times the estimated cost of processing an application?

Students from outside the European Union bring billions of pounds into the economy and enrich the institutions they attend in other ways. Without them, many courses could never be provided for home students, particularly at postgraduate level. Estimates of future demand suggest that international student mobility will continue to increase in the years to come, with Britain a prime destination. The £90 million the Home Office expects to gain from visa fees is as nothing compared with the likely benefits of such traffic. The costs of an extension are unlikely to put off significant numbers, but the likely damage to Britain's reputation in a highly competitive market should make ministers think again.

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