Many overseas students feel like "prisoners" in the UK as Home Office red tape leaves them without a passport for up to a year, MPs and student groups have said.
Despite the streamlining of visa arrangements for students applying to study in the UK, those who fall outside the system still experience "a series of extraordinary hassles" with their passports and visas, Sue Doughty, Liberal Democrat MP for Guildford, told the House of Commons last week.
Those applying for visa extensions are frequently left to survive without a passport for between six months and a year, denying them access to essential services such as banking and travel.
Ms Doughty told the House: "To deny a person his or her passport for so long is completely unacceptable and possibly an abuse of human rights. A person cannot travel or use the passport for identification, for example to set up a bank account.
"Students without their passport feel insecure. They are brought up to have identification and expect to have it if asked by the police. They have a constant nagging feeling that they are doing something wrong."
There has been a significant growth in the number of overseas students applying to study in the UK since the launch of a campaign three years ago, by prime minister Tony Blair, to recruit 50,000 more overseas students by 2005.
As part of the campaign, a fast-track scheme for visa applications was introduced, with the easing of procedures on permission for students to work part time and in vacations to help cover the cost of studying and living in the UK.
But according to the Ukcosa, the council for international education, a new unit called UK Visas set up by the Foreign Office and the Home Office does not have enough staff to cope with the increase in applications. Students from the number of countries such as Libya, Iran, Pakistan and Zimbabwe, are also excluded from the fast-track system.
Clive Saville, Ukcosa chief executive, said: "We think students have this bad experience much more often than ministers are willing to admit. They often have to surrender their passports in circumstances that make them feel they are almost prisoners in this country."
A spokesman for the British Council, which has been coordinating the promotion of UK higher education, said UK Visas was making efforts to tackle the problem.