Thousands of overseas students could be prevented or put off from studying in the UK by "fundamentally unjust" government plans to scrap appeals against visa refusals, immigration advisers have warned.
Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, announced the proposed changes last week as part of a package of measures designed to streamline and tighten immigration procedures.
Organisations that help overseas students through the visa applications process have complained that the plans could damage the UK's reputation in the international higher education market by denying places to worthy applicants.
According to the Immigration Advisory Service, about 800 overseas students successfully appealed against visa refusals in 2003-04, amounting to an appeals success rate of nearly 60 per cent.
Keith Best, the chief executive, said: "Most visa refusals are for more than one reason, and they are usually the subjective opinion of entry clearance officers on issues such as whether the student will complete the course or have access to sufficient funds. That is why appeals are successful so often."
Figures gathered by Ukcosa, the council for international education, indicate that nearly a third of overseas students are initially refused a visa.
For applicants from some parts of the world, such as equatorial Africa, the refusal rate is closer to 50 per cent. Dominic Scott, Ukcosa chief executive, commented: "If it is the case that 60 per cent of students are successful in their appeals, then the withdrawal of this right is a fundamental injustice."
Fiona Lindsley, the statutory independent monitor for entry clearance, has already raised concerns about the number of students wrongly denied rights of appeal on the grounds that the course they were planning to join was shorter than six months.
In a report published by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ms Lindsley says that in 2002 about 3,000 students were wrongly put into this category, often because a module on their course lasted less than six months.
The Immigration Law Practitioners' Association has warned that people who are wrongly denied the right of appeal could find future visa applications tainted by the fact that they have had a previous application refused.
Judith Farbey, a barrister at the chamber of Michael Mansfield QC, who is an executive member of the association, said: "Appeal rights are very valuable. Making a further application to the entry clearance officer is not a substitute."
'This will give the impression that Britain is somehow superior'
* When Richard Bankole was refused a visa to take up a place on a masters in international banking at Greenwich University, his first thought was to look for an alternative programme in Nigeria, his home country.
Luckily for Greenwich, which charges overseas students more than £10,000 a year for the course, he decided to appeal and won.
He said: "They told me at first that I couldn't have a visa because I didn't know enough about the course and I didn't have enough money.
"When I was refused, I wondered whether I should apply for a course in Nigeria instead. But I appealed and, a year later, I was successful.
"Scrapping appeals will give international students the impression that Britain thinks it is somehow superior and does not need to offer people the chance to appeal. I think that will stop many people applying to come here."
* Haresh Hirani 's brother Dhiren was refused a visa on the grounds that he had not paid college fees and had nowhere to stay in the UK.
He said: "He included a receipt for the fee with his application, and I have three houses in Harrow where he could stay."
Dhiren, from Kenya, applied for a place on an electronic engineering degree at the College of North West London, at a cost of £7,000 a year.
He decided to appeal against the visa refusal, but by the time he heard that he had been successful - 15 months later - he had signed up for the same course at Kandari University in India.
Haresh said the appeals process needed to be streamlined so it could deal with cases quicker. He says it must not be scrapped. "Most students would just go to another country rather than applying again if there was no appeal process."