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Current UK visa system does not deter Indian students: British High Commission regional director Dave Ratcliffe

From problems faced by Indian students in UK to concerns over highly skilled visas, Dave Ratcliffe speaks to ET on different issues.

, ET Bureau|
Dec 20, 2018, 05.44 PM IST
Dave Ratcliffe has been the regional director for UK Visas and Immigration, south and south east Asia since August 2018.
The latest figures show that in the year ending September 2018, 55% of all Tier 2 visas were granted to Indians

Dave Ratcliffe has been the regional director for UK Visas and Immigration, south and south east Asia since August 2018. Based at the British High Commission in New Delhi, he oversees the UKVI operation in India and 11 other countries, a region which received more than 800,000 UK visa applications last year (almost 80% of which were from India). From problems faced by Indian students in UK to concerns over highly skilled visas, he spoke to ET’s Ishani Duttagupta on different issues. Edited excerpts.

The number of Indian students going for higher education to the UK is now showing an upward trend, following a few years of slowdown – what according to you are the advantages for international students in the UK?
Essentially it comes down to quality, both the education students receive and the experience they have whilst in the UK. British universities are world-class with qualifications recognised around the globe.

Secondly, a UK education helps any graduate stand out when entering the competitive global jobs market. And finally, UK universities offer an unforgettable student experience. The global outlook and multicultural society, including a large and established British Indian diaspora across all four nations of the UK, helps make students feel at home.

There has been a demand from Indian students as well as many universities in the UK on post-study work visas – is this issue being addressed by the government?
There is no limit on the number of Indian students who can come to study in the UK. What is clear is that the current visa system is not deterring Indian students. The last two years have seen big increases – from just over 11,000 a year in 2016 to almost 19,000 in the last year ending September 2018. We recognise that the ability to stay in the UK to work post-study is an issue that factors into Indian considerations.

The current rules do offer post-study options for those wishing to continue in the UK. All international higher education students are able to stay in the UK for four months after graduation with unrestricted work rights, which gives them time to find a highly-skilled job or start a business. For those wishing to work, the Tier 2 (General) route offers a way to stay for longer for those who are able to secure a graduate level job with a UK-based employer. Students moving into Tier 2 from Tier 4 receive preferential treatment over Tier 2 (General) applicants – they are not subject to the annual cap that applies to Tier 2 and the salary requirement is lower (£20,800 versus £30,000 for experienced skilled workers).

Graduates also avoid the resident labour market test – meaning UK employers don’t need to show that a UK citizen could do the job instead, which is a big advantage. In addition, employers of switching students are not required to pay the Immigration skills charge.

Budding entrepreneurs have the possibility of starting a business under the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) route too. We currently are running a pilot for master’s students at 27 UK universities, which offers six months’ stay in the UK post-graduation as opposed to four. And in September, the independent migration advisory committee recommended extending the post-study leave period for all master’s students – as well as giving recent graduates the chance to apply for jobs from their country of origin. The government will respond to this report in due course.

There are concerns among the students planning to go to the UK for higher education over the Brexit negotiations and the implications – are you addressing these?
The UK government greatly values the higher education sector and India’s contribution to that, and Prime Minister Theresa May has been very clear that we will not look to cap the number of international students in the future.

Indian workers receive more skilled UK work visas than the rest of the world combined and this number has shown an increase of 2300 in October 2017 to September 2018, over the previous year – what are some of the sectors that are drawing the largest number of Indian workers? Do you have any break-up of the numbers?
The latest published immigration statistics show that in the year ending September 2018, 55% of all Tier 2 visas were granted to Indian nationals. This includes visas for our Tier 2 (intra-company transfers) route and for our main skilled work route, tier 2 (general).

ICT visas are largely used by multinational companies looking to transfer senior services personnel between international branches. Many of these were for the tech sector, and household names such as Tata, Infosys, Wipro, Cognizant, HCL and others. On Tier 2 (general) visas, we continue to see individuals securing graduate level jobs across a broad range of sectors. In addition to the Tier 2 route, we have made recent improvements across other immigration routes– earlier this year, we doubled the number of available visas on our Tier 1 (exceptional talent) route – which benefits individuals in key sectors, including those at the heart of our modern industrial strategy.

These changes also included the ability for internationally recognised existing leaders in their field to be able to apply for settlement after three years, down from five. For India, the main one to note is (unsurprisingly) the tech sector. We aim to make further changes for spring 2019, creating new start-up and Innovator visa routes, set to reform and replace our existing graduate entrepreneur and main entrepreneur routes, offering businesspeople with great ideas the opportunity to come to UK and put those ideas into action.

What are some of the attractions in UK that draws Indian visitors and tourists? How smooth is it to get a tourist visa?
India is a huge tourism opportunity for the UK, and is one of our priority markets for the UK’s tourist agency VisitBritain as well as the government-backed GREAT campaign. We know that visitors from India rate the UK highly for its historic-buildings and monuments, interesting and exciting contemporary culture, and the vibrancy of its cities, with destinations like Manchester and Edinburgh hold huge appeal.

The UK’s culture and heritage also holds high appeal for visitors from India, particularly famous buildings and monuments, museums and galleries as well as castles and historic houses. Visiting Buckingham Palace, viewing London from the Shard Tower and the London Eye and taking the mountain train up Mount Snowdon in Wales are the top three activities that Indians would most like to do if they went on a holiday to Britain. When in the UK Indian travellers enjoy dining in restaurants, shopping and visiting parks and gardens. They also like visiting the coast or beach and the countryside or villages.

Indian visitors also have a special interest in watch cricket live in the UK. With England and Wales hosting the Cricket World Cup in summer 2019 there are great opportunities to inspire Indian travellers to explore more of the country.
VisitBritain, UKVI and the rest of the UK government in India is in discussion with stakeholders on promoting destinations during the World Cup in 2019, with plans set to be announced soon. I would say it is pretty smooth to get a UK visa. You apply online, pay the fees and then visit one of the UK’s 18 visa application centres in India to give your biometrics and your passport.

Then after 15 working days at most – or five days/ 24 hours for priority and super priority customers – you get an email informing you of the decision, and you go and pick it up – or have it delivered to your home or office.

There are some concerns over delays in getting tourist and visitor visas as well as the increasing cost of applications. Are you addressing these problems?
This is really important to us – we know that a UK visa is just a part of the journey to visit, work or study in the UK and so we do our best to make that experience as quick as possible. We do have a strong track record in this regard – with 96% of visa applications in the last year being processed within our 15 working day service standard. In other words, Indian customers can be confident that we process the vast majority of applications in the times we say we will.

It’s important to note that the 15 working days doesn’t include weekends and starts from the day our customer completes their appointment at the visa application centre. Of course, for customers who need to travel sooner, the priority (five working days) and super-priority (24-hour) visas are there for a fee – but we have always been clear: you do not need to pay for these services if you plan in advance for your trip and apply in good time for your visa.

We are working with travel agents, media organisations, businesses and customer groups to encourage early application and lessen the peak of demand at the busiest time of year.

Also Read

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UK visa rules changes: Which Indians do they impact and how

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