Amit Tiwari, President of Indian National Students Association UK (INSA UK), told iGlobal that the crisis is “absolutely critical, pathetic and getting worse.”
There is a lengthy process before an overseas student can enter the UK. After a successful university application, UK immigration rules require the university to produce a ‘Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies’ (CAS) letter for every student and apply to the UK Home Office for a CAS number (which is required for the student visa application). Normally, this process concludes by June, with the academic year starting in September, and students usually start to finalise their formal agreements with landlords and accommodation providers after this process is complete.
However, with the current manpower shortages in the UK Home Office, the CAS numbers are still being issued all the way into November, nearly three months after the date students should be arriving in the UK. As a knock-on effect of this delay, students are left unsure and confused about finalising accommodations early on. While they wait for the CAS number, many Indian students come to the UK on a tourist visa, hoping to change it to a student visa when the CAS number is finally issued.
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“Accommodation shortages are prevalent in the UK at the moment and not just within Indian students but also home students,” explains Tiwari. Therefore, it is critical that accommodation agreements are finalised as early as late Spring or early Summer. Losing precious weeks to confusion means that Indian students are faced with either extremely pricey accommodation or no accommodation at all.
“There are six to seven students crammed into a single hotel room at the moment,” says Tiwari explaining the full extent of the nightmare as he reveals living condition for some Indian students currently in the UK.
The crisis, however, does not solely stem from Home Office delays. Tiwari also talks about the severe dearth of proper, accurate information available to students in India.
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“Many students are told to expect rents of up to £800, which was true in January 2022, but it is no longer true today. Rents have gone up even more since then and students who will enter the UK in the January 2023 cohort will have no idea about this.” Tiwari said.
Having repeatedly raised this issue with the government and other authorities, INSA believes that the most critical short-term solution is to raise awareness and media coverage so that students in India can make fully informed decisions about coming to the UK. It is also necessary that students finalise formal agreements with landlords as soon as they can, even if that means making a deal before a CAS number has been issued. Ultimately, Tiwari notes, that the responsibility should equally lie with the universities to ensure all their students have a found an accommodation before the academic year starts.
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Multiple support channels for students facing the housing situation have been set up by INSA. For example, WhatsApp groups which connect students directly to landlords to have direct negotiations or, partnering with accommodation providers such as ‘Homes for Students’ across the country.