New Delhi: This year’s immigration raids on two US universities popular among Indian students—Tri-Valley in California and the Annandale campus of University of Northern Virginia (UNVA)— may have exposed the prevalence of bogus universities and student visa fraud, but the phenomenon is by no means restricted to the US alone.
The UK and Australia, too, have had similar experiences.
“I think that higher education globally is facing some kind of crisis—while the demand in developed nations is now plateauing, there is huge demand for education in the developing world,” says Pawan Agarwal, educational advisor to the Planning Commission.
Tri-Valley and UNVA coming under the scanner point to a larger conflict faced by governments of host countries: On the one hand, international students contribute billions of dollars to host countries’ economies, and provide a potential source of skilled labour. On the other hand, particularly given the recent global recession, host countries are increasingly reluctant to absorb foreign graduates into the labour market. In March 2001, Australia launched a policy aimed at providing overseas students educated at Australian universities permanent residency without having to leave the country.
But in 2005—following a steady increase in student visa applications, notably from China and India—“it became evident that the interaction between overseas student programme and the general skilled migration programme was producing unintended and problematic outcomes,” according to a policy paper.
Over the next four years, authorities noted rising rates of student visa applications due to fraudulent documents, sub-standard applications and a rash or “phoney” educational institutions. Such problems came to a head in January-October of 2009, when Australia refused admission to one-third of Indian student applicants, due to high incidence of visa fraud, according to news reports.
In April this year, the UK too ratcheted back its student visa scheme following a rash of fake universities and high visa rejection rates, imposing tougher entrance criteria, limits on work entitlements and closed the post-study work route offered to overseas students.