Attaining a visa, while going through a number of struggles, provides a huge relief to travellers who want to go abroad for a specific reason, which might pertain to business, tourism, education or even a simple visit. But that might not be the case for many students who can’t afford to defer their studies over visa delays.
Canada and Australia bound students face hard choices as no visa results in sight
“IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) study permit timeline goes upto 12 weeks but we have been waiting since the month of January for our visa results. Our files have also not been checked,” said Akashdeep Singh, a resident of Punjab who wants to study in Canada. “Our files have been stuck in the backlog for months and many of us have already deferred their intakes. If we don’t get the visa on time, we will have to defer again or withdraw completely,” added Akashdeep, who said he only has 15 days to confirm his September admission at St. Clair College Windsor for which he needs the study permit.
Akashdeep’s case resonates with not just Canada bound students but also to the ones who are looking for academic opportunities elsewhere.
Sunny Patel, from Ahmedabad, who had applied for the July intake at Flinders University in Adelaide is also awaiting for his subclass 500 visa though there’s no end to the woes in sight.
“We, more than 150 international students from India, have been waiting for our subclass student visa grant. We all had applied to Flinders university for this year’s July intake,” said Sunny, an Engineer. “Our classes are starting from July 25 but our application is yet to be finalised by the Department of Home Affairs in Australia. A lot of uncertainty is happening around the visa outcome,” added Sunny, who wants to pursue Masters in Engineering.
The student visa (subclass 500) allows an individual to remain in Australia for up to 5 years for the purpose of full-time study at an educational institution, in line with their enrolment. The visa lets students participate in an eligible course of study and include family members in their application. Students can also work up to 40 hours every 2-week period once their course starts.
Students from Iran in the same boat
The case of visa delays is also affecting India’s maritime neighbour, Iran. Many Iranian students are also running the hashtag #helpIranianstudents to make authorities in countries such as Australia and Canada to make them more aware of their situation.
Mohammadhossein Esmaeli, a student in Tehran's capital city, is just as frustrated as his Indian counterparts. “Almost two years ago, I won the scholarships from the University of Queensland, Australia. It has been almost 21 months that I've been waiting for my student visa. During this time I used the deferral option for twice to keep my scholarships but unfortunately I lost it a few days ago. I'm very sad as I put my whole life on hold to be able to continue my education but at the end I found myself exhausted,” said Mohammad, who submitted his application in November 2020.
Students facing backlog issues at a much higher percentage
Though lakhs of students have been able to fulfil their study abroad dreams, the number of individuals who are facing issues with regard to visa backlogs is much higher.
“60 to 70 percent of Indian students are currently undergoing the visa backlog dilemma.
All major overseas education destinations are experiencing a significant visa backlog due to the pandemic phase, shortage of processing officers, and high volume of applications,” said Ajay Sharma, President, and Founder of Abhinav Immigration Services.
All countries with their own set of problems
According to Mr. Sharma, all the popular study destinations have their own set of issues. “Canada has a backlog of 2.7 million due to the pandemic and the introduction of the temporary pathway for the war-hit Ukraine refugees and asylum seekers. UK immigration authorities had trouble with a ton of visa backlogs; therefore, they are forced to request applicants to apply six months before the travel date. Australia is also hit by the two-year border closure and is currently dealing with a rapid influx of visa applications. And the USA is having a tough time figuring out the post-pandemic hangover, immigrant visa bans by the Trump administration, and struggling to recover from staff attrition,” said Sharma.
Situation in US better than countries like the UK
Others like Kunal Mehra, an international education consultant with Crimson Education India believe that the issue is more prevalent in countries like the UK compared to the US. “The delays in visa processing have impacted the students going to the UK more, compared to those headed to the US. If you see, US consulates are expediting visa appointments to make it easier for more and more students to travel in time for classes. But in the case of the UK, where students can avail of conditional offers if they score a minimum percentage it’s becoming a struggle. Delays in examinations in India across different boards have led to many students not being able to access offers that are available at select UK colleges,” said Mr. Mehra, who suggested that students can seek academic support directly from the Universities while waiting for their visas.
Staff crunch in embassies a major problem
Visa Consultants have pointed out that the Embassy’s internal struggles have spilled over to abroad visits by not only students but businesspersons and tourists. “Embassies in India are facing a staff crunch. If before the pandemic, there were 10 employees, now there are 5. This has led to fewer applications being processed, while more of them are being submitted,” said Aseem Sharma, a visa consultant with Jetsave. “Before Covid, people used to make their plans within a span of a few days but now it is impossible to do the same. Visa applications to most European countries are possibly difficult to get approved right now,” said Mr. Aseem. who added that more countries have to adopt on arrival visas as an alternative.