Last month the BBC news, through a correspondent in Mumbai, did a piece stating that more students from India are re-thinking coming to the United Kingdom to study because “[They] don’t feel welcome”. Now its true that frequent (or at the least more frequent than preferable) changes to Visa rules and the recent problem with the London Met has led to a feeling that coming to the UK to study as a full-time student may be more trouble than its worth. Well on behalf of myself and other students studying here in London, I’d like to tell you that this is not the case, but I do agree that the process for applying for a Tier-4 Student Visa can be quite frustrating, so here are a few tips from my own experience to help you along the way – a lot of these tips may apply to you specifically for Post-Graduate Degrees or if you’re coming from India, but even if you don’t fall in those categories, read through, hopefully they will help:
- Get Ready Early: Most of you will hear from your desired Universities between January-March, so that actually gives you a lot of time to get your application ready, but most of us tend to think, “arre yaar, bohat time hai!” (Aww man, there’s plenty of time) and we let a lot of the stuff slide till a month or so before our Term starts. Don’t! There are some documents which you need to get closer to the application date, such as your Bank Statements and Health Certificates, but get the rest of it done early and you’ll be a lot less stressed later on.
- Clarify your doubts: In India the applications are not made directly to the Embassy, rather you go to a collection agency that accepts the documents and passport on your behalf and then forwards them to the Embassy. The problem here is that the people looking through your documents when they collect them aren’t going to make any decisions, and they may not actually know the specifics of each required document. So if you’re not sure if something is just right, email the Embassy early on and ask for clarification. In my experience, they are quite about responding, but since they probably get bogged down by a lot of queries around the same time, make sure and give them enough time to respond.
- Read the Fine Print: The consideration process, unfortunately, is very detail strict. That is to say, that it works on a point/list system – so if a document isn’t exactly how it’s supposed to be you might get an automatic rejection. Now there is an appeal process, so it can be corrected, but prevention is better than cure. I was rejected myself because the required funds were in the account I linked to my application for 20 instead of the required 24 days – you can imagine that I was quite peeved about this – don’t let it happen to you.
- Dealing with D.U: Dealing with the bureaucratic procedures of Delhi University or one of the many other Universities in India,can be a bit slow and annoying. So remember to apply for the required provisional degrees or certificates right away, should something go wrong and you need to re-apply.
- Back-Track: My approach to dealing with deadlines is to look at the final one and then move backwards in terms of what I need to do and how long it will take. Try this. Make a timeline so you can track your progress and know what needs to be done. And put it down on paper – I’m sure you’ve got a great memory but at some point something will fall through the cracks and you’ll just end up shooting yourself in the foot.
- Don’t Panic: The worst thing that you can do to yourself is freak out. Just be sure to read all the information thoroughly and make sure your documents are in the proper formats and proper letterheads. Make a list so you can tick stuff off – trust me, it’ll help you feel more prepared as the process continues. Keep everything together and create bundles so you don’t end up tossing your room around last-minute. And breath.
But it’s not just about the Visa – You should also know what you’re through the process for. Studying in the UK, particularly in London, can be a very rewarding and eye-opening experience. And there are many reasons to come study here, some of which you may not have considered, but may be more important than you know – some of these may be targeted specifically at Law students, as I myself am currently doing my LLM at Queen Mary, University of London and so that is the experience that I’m speaking from:
- Cultural/Social Life: London has an infinite amount to offer when it comes to Music and the Arts. It has several Museums that are dedicated to niche topics and issues, which may give you an outlook you never encountered before. It has a host of venues that offer something for everyone, making it easy to immerse yourself in new cultures and experiences. And there’s really no point going abroad to study if you don’t make this an important part of your time – don’t just go to a new country to bury your head in a book – live and grow!
- Networking: The exciting part of studying in a Metropolitan city is that you will have access, both through and independent of your university/college, to immense networking opportunities. As a student of the University of London you have free access to several events every month, whether they are organised by your own college or one of the other ones. These can be a great place to meet people from various backgrounds/jurisdictions, which not only provides you with perspectives towards your field you may have not considered before, but future professional also contacts from around the globe.
- A Cure for Homesickness: London has a significant Indian, Pakistani and Bengali presence, so if you feel homesick or want to celebrate your favourite religious or cultural rites or just want some authentic native cuisine, you will not go wanting. Walking around in Southhall you’d almost forget that you weren’t back home in India and the city even had an immense Diwali celebration in Central London last year – I suppose these are the benefits of having had a vast number of Indians migrate here during/after the British Raj ; p
- Working Opportunities:One of the main complaints that people are making is the changing of the Visa rules that earlier allowed Indian students to stay on in the UK for two years to look for work post-study. Admittedly this is a significant factor, but people are under the wrong impression that the UK has taken away the opportunity all-together. Students can still apply to stay on by changing their Visa from a Tier 4 to a Tier 2 visa and they need not fly back home to do so. Yes it is more difficult than earlier but Prime Minister David Cameron, during his recent trip to Mumbai, assured the public that genuine students wishing to come to London to study would be given Visas and also allowed to stay on if they secured proper employment.
- Getting Around: London has one the best public transport systems in the world. From 6 am to about 12:15 am you can easily get to any part of the city using the intricate system of Underground or Overground lines. And if you’re out having a late one with friends, no need to worry, certain bus lines run 24 hours so no matter which part of the city you’re at, you can still get home safely – having taken the bus home at 4 am more often than I’d like to admit, I can vouch for that ; p
- The People: Possibly the most important – the people here are friendly and considerate. Sure they have their eccentricities, as any culture does, and you need to learn the everyday etiquette or you may annoy someone – but other than that people are always happy to hear you out and point you in the right direction. Coming specifically to the LLM Department at Queen Mary, they were immensely helpful in getting us settled in and helping us ease into our courses. The college provides a lot of academic and non-academic support and they make it a concern to make sure that students don’t get bogged down or fall through the cracks.
- Opportunity to Travel: Another great thing about studying in the UK is that the rest of Europe is just a bus or train ride away. Yes you have to get a Schengen Visa, but it’s not that difficult if you’re residing here full-time. I recently applied for an Irish Visa and got in just 7 days. I was even exempted from making any payment. Later this year my friend and I are planning to go through France, Italy, Spain, Hungary and the Netherlands on a proper back-packing trip – I can’t wait!
Well I don’t want to prattle on forever. I hope I’ve given you prospective applicants out there some food for thought. It’s understandable that a lot of people are going to Australia or the US for their degrees now, but personally I’m really happy I made the decision to come to London. I just feel so much more at home here. And its close enough that once in a while my family from back home still comes and visits. Good luck to all you applying for your visas. And remember – Relax! : )