By Matthew Knott, News Editor of Study Travel Magazine

Once again this week, my time on the news desk writing and researching stories for Study Travel Magazine has been somewhat dominated by immigration issues.

Our lead news story today demonstrates the destructive impact of a seemingly relatively small gear shift in visa policy. South Africa’s English language school association, Education South Africa (EduSA), has warned of a major crash for the industry over the coming years unless changes implemented earlier this year are swiftly reversed.

The change relates to an alteration of what should be recognised as a valid course for a study visa. The guidance is open to interpretation and implementation of it by different embassies has been uneven but it has effectively nullified recruitment efforts in some markets, while an additional requirement of visa interviews for applicants has added a layer of bureaucracy at the worst time.

EduSA has been active in lobbying for a separate immigration stream for language study – the likes of which their competitors in, say, the UK and Australia, have long enjoyed – and has hired a lawyer to argue that EduSA members should be recognised through current legislation, based on their accreditation. We can only hope the government sees sense in protecting an industry that has been growing steadily over recent years, according to association data, and was poised for further expansion.

Elsewhere, I had the pleasure of attending the Alphe Russia workshop in St Petersburg last week and chatting to many Russian agents. Needless to say, the current political climate and Russia’s weak currency came up repeatedly as impacts on business during the last year, but the greatest ire was reserved for the UK’s handling of visas during the summer. 

In this instance, there was no change of, or problem with, visa policy. The issue lies with the outsourcing of visa application services to a private company by the name of Teleperformance. I heard a litany of problems (general delays, lost passports, untrained staff, massive queues snaking around the block), and Russia is not alone in this issue – several non-EU European agents have reported back to us with similar issues in their territories.

I highlighted in this column a couple of weeks ago the impact that large-scale epidemics can potentially have on the industry, and this has crossed over into visa policy this week with the announcement by Australia that all immigration from the Ebola-affected countries in West Africa has been suspended. The move, which has been condemned by the United Nations, will in truth impact on relatively few international students, but it is an ominous precedent. And would Australia extend that ban to, for example, the USA and Spain – two countries where health workers have contracted the disease should further cases emerge?


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