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PhD Visa rules

Last year I had an enquiry from a prospective PhD canidate, from Libya. He seems like a decent enough bet: he had a MSc from Cardiff, and his references from there were fine – so there were no major concerns with his English or his general background knowledge. His MSc project was in an area relevant to my own work. So, it looked like his could make a go of a PhD. The basic paperwork was in place for him to come, he just needed to acquire a visa. Then the revolution started. Communications went down, and there was no way to know what was really happening. Thankfully, sometime after things had settled down I got an email to say my applicant was OK, and was the offer for the PhD still open? So we sorted the paperwork out again and an application was made for a visa. Note that the Libyan Government would pay the overseas fees (>£12k per year) and that his stipend would be around £1900 per month (much more than the EPSRc stipend of around £1150 per month). The visa request was turned down – the reason given was the monthly income was less than £2400! If one includes the fees and stipend, the Libyan Government was prepared to pay more than £3000 per month to fund this student.

In the Sunday Times this weekend there is an article [paywalled] about Indian students ‘shunning’ the UK as visa regulations get tougher and courses increasingly expensive. Damian Green, the immigration minister is quoted as saying:

There is no limit on the number of genuine students who can come to the UK and our reforms are not stopping them.

Well Mr Green, in this case they clearly are, unless of course you are coming from a country that is prepared to pay, not only 3-4 times the fees of a UK/EU student, but also more than twice what the UK Government is prepared to pay it’s own physics and engineering PhD students. It seems we are quite happy to support regime change in Libyan, but not quite so forthcoming in helping to educate their students.

I don’t really understand the decision making process here, but if this is the general rule for overseas PhD applicants relating to visas, then I think UK Higher Education may have a very serious problem, which is not just brewing, but well underway. ‘Cos clearly we can afford to turn away decent students with the money to finance their studies behind them.

I’m reading Mark Henderson‘s ‘Geek Manifesto‘ at the moment, and clearly it has had some effect, as I now need to take this up with my MP.

  1. telescoper
    May 21, 2012 at 9:48 am

    Reblogged this on In the Dark and commented:
    David McGloin gives and example of the idiocy of the UK’s policy of restricting to our universities for fully-funded overseas students.

  2. May 21, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Hi, I saw this re-blogged on Peter Coles’ blog. I’m the NUS International Students Committee member for Wales and I work closely with Aurora Adams, the Scotland member. Would you like me to get you in touch with her to discuss how NUS can better support prospective students in this situation?

    • May 21, 2012 at 12:34 pm

      Yes, this would be useful, thanks. I have to confess I am not on top of the specific rules regarding visa applications at the moment. If the rule is as clear cut as my potential PhD student has indicated, I’m not clear why the University here hasn’t given us both clearer advice. So I still need to collect a bit more info about this and get to the bottom of the what the criteria for admission to the Uk to study really are.

  3. May 21, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    Something of the reverse situation exists to some extent in Germany. It is easier for non-EU citizens to get work and residence permits in Germany if they are “highly qualified”. Rather than try to define this, the rule is that their future salary in Germany has to be more then X. Someone then noticed that X is higher than the standard pay for a full professor, so by some definition the government defines its own professors as not “highly qualified”. (The comparison isn’t completely fair, though, because professors are civil servants and as such enjoy benefits which make up for a low salary compared to similarly skilled people outside of academia. Nevertheless, there was recently a court case where the court ruled that professorial salary (after the “reform” a few years ago) is indeed too low in that it conflicts with the constitutional demand for the government to support its civil servants at an appropriate level. Also, work and residence permits have been automatic for jobs in academia in Germany for decades now; for professors there is even an exception to the rule that civil servants must be German citizens.)

  4. January 23, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    I have been awarded full funding to undertake an EngD. As I am an international student I would require a visa to enter and study in the UK. I have attempted to apply for a Tier 4 visa, but the University is unable to sponsor me as:

    the time spent in a work placement must not exceed 50% of the total length of the course
    The relevant paragraphs are – 367 and 424-425: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/documents/employersandsponsors/pbsguidance/guidancefrom31mar09/sponsor-guidance-t4-060412.pdf?view=Binary

    The sponsoring company is unable to sponsor me, as they are not listed as sponsors of visa’s and the money that I will be receiving as a stipend falls below the required salary threshold.

    The EngD is very specific in the amount of time that is spent with the company:

    EPSRC describes how flexibility has been made to attract international students:

    On the EPSRC website, there is no mention made of visa’s and the UK Border Agency has no mention made about EngD within tier 4 either in the guidance available or the legislation.

    I have had numerous discussions with all parties, to no avail.

    Basically a doctorate programme was created, allowances were made for exceptional international candidates to take part, but no visa has been created to accommodate these candidates.

    Is this the UK addressing the skills gap within the UK? By prohibiting students from undertaking doctorates?

    • January 23, 2013 at 6:47 pm

      Gavin – This is indeed unfortunate, although I think in this case it the UKBA that is more at fault than EPSRC. But you are right, maybe there needs to be a clarification on the rules for such studentships within a EngD, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. If you are keen on studying in the UK, I assume you could do a PhD, but maybe just have less industrial engagement? I’m sorry we are turning away talented students – I think the Government either hasn’t thought through the implications of all the new rule changes, or it doesn’t care. I’m not sure I’d like to speculate which.

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