You're an international student applying for your visa to study for a Masters at University in the United Kingdom. Since you've finished your Undergraduate degree in the UK, you're allowed to apply from within the UK. You've paid your fees in advance (potentially costing you up to as much as £20,000), ensured you have sufficient funds in your bank account and forked out for the £406 application fee.
You then send off your passport and all the documentation required to the Home Office, spending days scouring over it to ensure you haven't made any mistakes. This must be the fifth time you've rewritten it and you've made sure your handwriting is impeccable.
Now you just need to wait.
One month has passed. You continue to wait.
Two months have passed. You start to get nervous.
Three months have passed. You're now getting desperate. You've already booked flights from the UK to see your family for the first time in two years. Surely it can't be taking this long? Your parents are calling you daily enquiring over the status of your application. You call the Home Office and they respond "our staff cannot provide any information about your application if you applied less than 6 months ago." (Their emphasis. Not mine.)
You're shocked. What type of company doesn't provide an estimated delivery time for an application? Heck, even dominoes gives a play by play for that pizza you ordered.
You call the International Office but they are unable to help either. You have no clue when your passport will be returned. Two days come and you've been forced to miss your £600 flight home. You're now spending Christmas alone thanks to the service of the Home Office.
This story isn't farfetched, it happens to international students all the time. Students were stuck in the UK due to ridiculous visa processing delays last July and again last Christmas. NUS received hundreds of case studies and emails from worried students and parents. One University told us that the length of time taken to process an application ranged from 63 days (9 weeks) to 189 days (27 weeks). The average processing time for their applications was 106.93 days (over 15 weeks), meaning if you applied for a visa last October you were likely going to miss Christmas at home.
Even worse, a sizeable number of applications come back with mistakes, meaning that they have to be reprocessed.
That's why the NUS gave the Home Office the Yellow Card and worked to develop a set of expected service standards to present to the Home Office, as it develops its functions following the disbandment of the UKBA.
It is one thing to say we are open for international students, and it's another to take responsibility for the service students are receiving - a service they pay a premium price for.
Students deserve better. That's why NUS is calling on the Home Office to developed clear service standards for their treatment of international students.
They need to make it far clearer to applicants what costs and documentation will be required of them and to provide greater flexibility in the case of genuine mistakes.
We also think keeping applicants properly informed about the status of their visa throughout the application process is a basic right.
And finally, we want to see the Home Office tackling the unacceptably high level of application processing delays.
Developing clear and fair service standards for the treatment of international students would be a great initial way of demonstrating a new approach from the Home Office, after a number of years which have seen international students treated terribly following a raft of confused policy changes. And it would do a huge amount to meaningfully show that the UK really is open to international students. Let's hope that they take this up.