University-bound Pakistani students stuck at home without visas

Students say 15-day procedure taking more than a month, stress co-ordination between British High Commission and UK universities
KARACHI: When it comes to further studies, the United Kingdom (UK), United States of America (USA) and Canada take the lion’s share of students completing their A-Levels in Pakistan. And all three have a varying and nerve-wrecking visa process.

Students who have secured admissions in North America head off for university latest by the end of August, while those heading to the UK have to apply for the visa in August or September and wait for 10 to 15 working days for the visa application to be processed by the British High Commission (BHC) in Islamabad. The applicants are then told to check their status online on or by calling the visa call centre. It all sounds quite simple but it really isn’t.

Still waiting: Students who applied for the visa in late August are still waiting for news. One such student is Alizeh, who claims that she applied for her visa in August. “I applied on August 29 and am still waiting. The infuriating bit is that the staff says that the process will take 15 working days at the most. Why can’t they be honest from the very outset?” she said.

Usman is another stranded student. “It says 15 working days on their website but it has been a month since I applied. After all the hard work of meeting my offer and gaining admission, I fail to understand where I stand with a visa,” he said. The students’ restlessness does not seem unreasonable when one learns that many of them have missed their orientations and enrollment at university and stand also to lose their places in the universities if they don’t reach the respective country in time.

Tanya’s orientation was on Monday, with enrollment on Tuesday, and she was required to check-in at her accommodation two days in advance. Although she has packed and is ready to go, she doesn’t have a visa. “I email the university everyday and give them any updates I get. I had to beg the accommodation administration to extend my deadline. If I don’t go this week, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.

“We’re sitting here all prepared, with our flights booked and everything ready, but we do not know what lies ahead. We’ve all worked so hard for this and now this opportunity is slipping by because of forces outside our control,” said a frustrated Hira.

The frustration has intensified after the bomb blast in Islamabad, which has resulted in the closure of the BHC for a few days. “Its like we’re clutching at straws,” said Husain, another bitter applicant. “The uncertainty of not having our visas is really what is pushing all the wrong buttons.”

“While we fully understand the situation of the high commission, we feel that the protracted delay of our visa is the result of the commission officers shirking from their jobs,” said Nadir. Aeimen is another bitter soul who claims that she has been left speechless. “I can’t believe that they aren’t giving visas. This just adds to the problem… we don’t get our visas, we don’t get educated and then we’re back to square one! It’s a vicious circle!”

Rosie seems to be the optimist of the bunch “hoping for the best yet expecting the worst.” According to Zaine, the uncertainty about the visa status is beyond frustrating. “There is absolutely nothing we can do except sit, wait and worry. It brings a bitter taste to an otherwise momentous occasion,” he said. “I have applied for my UK student visa since September 5 but still haven’t received any updates. It’s getting really frustrating as my classes have already commenced and the deadline of enrolment is right around the corner,” said Mohammad Fahad.

Ahad, who submitted his visa on August 26, said, “My university, LSE, opens on September 26 and I still haven’t received my passport.” Mohammad Yasir, who applied on August 25, is freaked out as his classes commenced yesterday and his university has only extended his deadline till September 26.

Rabab claims that the students will waste a year if they don’t get the visas on time. “The term begins next Monday and attendance is compulsory. Failure to show up on the first day means withdrawal.” Amal is another distraught student, “This whole process has given the word ‘patience’ an entirely new meaning. There should be at least some form of coordination between the BHC (British High Commission) and UK universities. On one hand, we’re receiving one email after another warning us of enrolment and accommodation deadlines and, on the other hand, our passports are not being returned a month after we’ve applied. It’s utterly unfair.”

Source: Daily Times, 25/9/2008

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