Letter of law crushes hope for letters after name

February 23, 1996

A Home Office crackdown on visas has left many overseas students facing deportation. Alan Thomson reports

Overseas PhD students are facing deportation after a Government visa crackdown deprived them of extra time to write up research, it has been claimed.

Doctoral students at several universities have had their applications for visa extensions turned down by the Home Office as part of a general crackdown on immigration and foreigners working, say student representatives.

Francesca Holland, welfare and graduate officer, at Cambridge University Students Union, says that it used to be standard Home Office practice to allow foreign postgraduate students a few extra months beyond their agreed visa limits, to allow them to write up their theses.

But Ms Holland said that it now appeared that the Home Office had tightened up its application of the regulations relating to research visas with the result that numbers of Cambridge and other university postgraduates had been told to leave the country without getting a chance to write up their research.

She said: "There have been a number of incidents of this around the country. It seems that the officers dealing with the extension requests have been told to go by the letter of the law.

"The problem is that 60 per cent of people finish their PhDs within four years, not three. People are simply not being allowed time to write up their theses." Ms Holland said that the CUSU was advising PhD students in this predicament to appeal against the decisions, which the Home Office admits can take months, if not years.

Ewan Gillon, general secretary of the National Postgraduate Committee said: "I am sure that the committee would feel very unhappy about people not being allowed to write up their research at the institutions. It would affect their chances of success. It is unrealistic to think that a PhD can be completed within three years."

The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals said that it had strong suspicions that overseas students were being denied extensions even though they had the full backing of their university to stay on and write up their theses.

Spokesman Ted Neild said: "While we cannot give carte blanche to people allowing them to take years to write up their theses, there should be no obstacle to them receiving an extension with backing from an institution."

A spokesman for the Home Office said that there had been no change in the law and no tightening of the existing rules.

He said: "They are given the initial period they ask for, it may be one, two or three years and it is acknowledged that time is often required over and above this to write up theses.

"This is normally granted, provided the university concerned gives its approval. The only place there might be a problem is if the university refuses to support them in seeking an extension and then a refusal would be considered by the department."

* The Home Office plans to undertake far-reaching reorganisation of the Immigration and Nationality Department, which includes the B1 section dealing with PhD visa extensions, in order to bring in new technology which they say will make the processing of applications more efficient. It says it will mean no change to policy.

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