London, March 8: At 86 rupees to the pound, those coming to the UK from India will have to pay significantly more for their visas but missing from the list of high commissions and embassies consulted by the British authorities before the new charges were decided is the Indian mission in London.
This will disappoint the Indian government because Britain has stressed repeatedly that it would welcome many more of India’s best and brightest students who are currently being lured away by America.
Among those consulted by the home office in London are the embassies of Indonesia, Israel, Japan and China and the Zambian high commissioner but the Indians are not on the list of those consulted though 5,00,000 visitors come to the UK every year from India.
The new charges will take effect from April 1. (See chart)
It is unclear whether India will retaliate by hiking visa charges for British nationals. “We do act on the basis of reciprocity but all other factors have to be taken into account,” said a source.
Higher charges would hit British Indians travelling to India for holidays or family weddings. Also, it would not help the cause of Indian tourism.
One of the criticisms frequently levelled against the British government is that though it appears to consult the public, for example over road pricing, the relevant decisions have already been taken. Iraq is perhaps the most glaring example of the government going against the wishes of the majority of the people of Britain, resulting in the worst foreign policy disaster since Suez.
It is generally accepted that the visa regime did need sorting out but for political reasons, the government sees control of illegal immigration as its priority. The extra money from higher fees will be used in keeping out illegal immigrants, though the main problems are currently being caused by an escalation of workers coming in, as of right, from new European Union members such as Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.
Immigration minister Liam Byrne said the system was fair, as it targeted charges on those who could afford them most. “We believe it is fair that those who benefit the most from using our immigration system — those who come here to live and work — should pay more to fund it.”
He said: “We are committed to making the system easier for those we want to come, but tougher on those abusing it.”
His remarks will not please the heads of UK educational institutions who increasingly depend on foreign students for much needed revenue. Anything that discourages students from coming to Britain will be counter-productive from their point of view.
Lord David Triesman, minister at the foreign and Commonwealth office, commented: “We have been careful to ensure that the fees are not set at a level that would hamper the UK’s global competitive position.”
Minister for lifelong learning, further and higher education, Bill Rammell said: “The government recognises the benefits international students bring to the UK. The new fee structure is aimed at maintaining the attractiveness of the UK as a student destination, by keeping the student visa fee as low as possible.”
As it is, London is now one of the most expensive cities for travel with a minimum £4 fare (nearly Rs 350) on the Underground. Fares on British Rail now verge on the prohibitive, forcing more people to travel by road at a time when the government wants to cut congestion.
The Confederation of British Industry is worried that the money from higher visa charges will be diverted into areas that have nothing to do with immigration control.
The confederation’s director of HR policy, Susan Anderson, said: “The current system clearly needs to be reformed. If rises in visa fees are necessary to fund these improvements, employers will see it as a price worth paying — as long as they see that money is ring-fenced and a sustained, well-managed migration system is achieved.”
The visa structure for students is less than straightforward.
According to the home office, “The student visa fee was last increased in 2005-06, and there was no rise in 2006-07. The fee is rising from £85 to £99 on April 1, 2007. But 60 per cent of all student visa applicants currently pay an average fee of £11 on top of their visa. This goes to corporate partners in-country (CPP) who process the visa application on behalf of UK Visas. The CPP network will be extended to 85 per cent of applicants over the next three years.”
The home office further explained: “Under the fees structure announced, the existing CPP fee will be incorporated in the new student visa fee of £99. So some students would only pay an increase of a few pounds. In the case of countries like China, Russia, Jordan, Mozambique and Namibia, there would be an effective decrease in the fee.
“In India, students will pay an increase of £8.49 or 9.3 per cent. This is the first increase for two years and is far less than the increase in the work permit fee.”
It added: “The maximum increase in student visa fees under the new system is £14.”