Home Office rejects call to ditch visa fees

August 22, 2003

Overseas student-rights campaigners are furious that the Home Office snubbed their call for a new visa extension charge to be dropped.

The UK Council for Overseas Student Affairs held emergency talks with the Home Office last month in an attempt to head off introduction of the charge, which will force students to pay between £155 and £250 for a visa extension.

Ukcosa, backed by Universities UK, warned that bringing in such a high fee at short notice was "bound to generate resentment" among the 70,000 overseas students who would be affected every year, and that it could damage the government's initiative to attract more foreign students to the UK.

But the Home Office said budgets for this financial year had been set, with the projected income from the charges, estimated at £90 million a year, built in.

In a letter to Ukcosa, Alan Underwood, senior director of managed migration at the Home Office, says that to delay or dilute the proposal will "seriously jeopardise" efforts to improve standards in the visa service.

He adds: "I do understand the heat this is generating. However, these charges are being introduced on the clear principle that the users of a service should pay for it and not the general taxpayer."

The Home Office also rejected a suggestion from Ukcosa that students who needed to make multiple visa applications, such as those enrolling on English-language foundation courses or on postgraduate research programmes, should be allowed to pay for a five-year "season ticket".

In response, Ukcosa chief executive Clive Saville said the charges ran counter to the prime minister's promise to "make visa and entry arrangements more user friendly for students".

He also expressed alarm at a suggestion that the fees might be increased within the year. "Most students will regard the current level as exorbitant. Can you assure us that increases will not be above inflation?" he asked.

Mr Saville said many overseas students were having to apply for extensions because visa officers had given them leave to remain in the UK for only a year at a time, "for no apparent reason".

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