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Page last updated at 09:04 GMT, Wednesday, 7 October 2009 10:04 UK

Ire of visa-delayed Pakistani students

Hafiz Yousef
I don't have any (other) option or university. No university in Pakistan will take me because it is too late
Hafiz Yousef

Britain is to speed up the time it takes to process visa applications by Pakistanis after a backlog meant that thousands of people - especially students - have been unable to enter the country. The BBC Asian Network's Dil Neiyyar has been speaking to some of them.

Twenty-six-year-old Hafiz Yousef was overjoyed when he heard that Sunderland University in the UK had accepted him on its MSc Project Management course.

It had been his dream to study in England. But a few months on it has turned into a nightmare. The course has started - but he is still stuck in Lahore.

"I was supposed to be there on Monday (5 October) in the morning to build my future. But I feel really, really sorry about myself," he said.

'Shame'

He has not been able to travel to England because his visa application has still not been processed.

Students in Pakistan
Thousands of Pakistani students apply to study in the UK every year

"My classes have started. Unfortunately I am more than 7,000 miles away from my campus. You can imagine what I feel. I wish to attend my class but I can't."

Twenty-eight-year-old Zubair Jatoi from Islamabad is another student who is anxiously waiting for his visa.

"I applied for my visa on 9 July and I mentioned that I intend to go to England on 10 September as I have been given a government scholarship from my employer university," he said.

"I am serving there as a government officer, working as a lecturer at university. And till now I haven't received any response from the UK Border Agency. I have sent them many e-mails."

The National Union of Pakistan Students said the delays were hitting genuine students.

"It's a shame because it means that lots of students who want to access better opportunities in terms of studies and post-graduate studies have to go through a very lengthy process," said spokesman Faizan Rana.

The BBC has learnt that 5,000 students are waiting for their visa to be processed. Another 9,000 are appealing following rejections.

"I know many of the students who are facing the same problem and it's a difficult situation for each one of us because obviously most of us have paid for so many things. They are going to lose all those amounts," said Zubair Jatoi.

British Home Secretary Alan Johnson apologised today for the delays. He blamed a failure of new technology and problems with checks on bank accounts.

Speaking in Pakistan where he is on a short visit, he promised to clear up the backlog and speed up the process.

But for some students it is far too late. Their colleges have told them that they can no longer keep places open for them.

'Overcrowding'

Zubair Jatoi is worried that he will join this growing number. He is desperate not to lose what he describes as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do an MPhil at Warwick University.

UK exam room
A British education is still highly sought after despite the delays

"Universities are not going to give us extensions. Even my university gave me an extension until 12 October. After that the university will not allow me to get in. I can estimate 50% of students are having [a similar] problem. Seven or eight of my own friends are still waiting for their visas."

Universities and colleges are forced into such measures because delayed visas create headaches for them. At the London College of Accountancy, where many of the students are from Pakistan, it means financial and administration problems.

"If there is a backlog, it ruins all of our planning for what number of enrolments we can have. And because of this backlog we fear that early next year there will be overcrowding," said Senior Course Administrator Farhan Rohila.

"As a private sector institution it's going to affect our business and obviously it's not really good that we are not utilising our full resources. So it is affecting us in all ways," he said.

Some suggest that in future students may think twice about applying to study in Britain.

"My friends who want to apply after me are really very much disappointed to see me waiting for a visa. I have rejected two job offers already because I applied for the visa. I don't have any (other) option or university. No university in Pakistan will take me because it is too late," said Hafiz Yousef.



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