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Government needs to take “urgent” action on visas for international students, experts warn

The government needs to “urgently” take steps to ensure that visas for international students are not held up by the coronavirus outbreak, experts have warned.

The closing of UK universities and educational institutions amid the pandemic has led the government to mitigate visa requirements for international students

Some of these provisions include a temporary measure which allows students to renew or change their visa categories without having to return to their home countries. This is in part due to travel restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which is leaving many unable to return home. 

The Home Office is also allowing universities to independently assess how well international students speak English, as examination centres have been shut, following the UK lockdown. 

There are, however, concerns as to whether these measures will work, as Visa Application Centers remain closed. 

Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK (UUK) International, said: “The priority is making sure the system is working at all, because one of the things spooking us is that the Visa Application Centres are closed.”

The priority is making sure the system is working at all, because one of the things spooking us is that the Visa Application Centres are closed

– Vivienne Stern

“If we don’t get those systems up and running, it will be hard to send the message to international students, many of whom do still want to study here, that they can get the visas they need,” she added. 

The government has also relaxed policies regarding online learning and international students until 31 May, which is usually banned for those on Tier 4 visas. Ms Stern has called for an extension on these measures due to the uncertainty regarding the future state of universities in the upcoming months. 

UUK International has also proposed to the government measures to grant further extensions to visas. These demands come in hand with concerns over how the pandemic might prevent prospective international students from entering the UK, causing universities to suffer economically. 

EU students are also to be included in these proposals. 

Eva Crossan Jory, vice-president for welfare at the National Union of Students, said a reduction in the intake of international students would have “a hugely detrimental effect on the experience for all students on campus, as well as the knock-on effects on institutional financial sustainability”.

While Ms Stern has declared that there is “real urgency” to this situation, the Home Office has said it is “keeping the situation under review and will take further steps if needed”.

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