When Arbab Mazhar got accepted on a Bachelor programme at a German higher education institution back in 2011, he had no idea that it would be years until he was finally granted a visa to study in Deutschland.
Mazhar told The Local that his rejections were “totally unfair” and initially “very disappointing” since he fulfilled all the necessary requirements and submitted the mandatory documents.
The Pakistani claims the German embassy in Islamabad did not provide a reason for denying him a visa in 2011 and again when he re-applied the following year.
Only after subsequent months of inquiring did they send him a letter stating, among other things, that they doubted his seriousness as a student, his grades weren’t good enough and he didn’t have sufficient funds. But Mazhar denies all these claims.
He appealed the second rejection and says it took three years until the administrative court in Berlin made a decision. In 2015, the court ruled in his favour and he was finally issued a student visa.
He flew to Germany in 2016 to embark on a Masters programme in International Management and Information Systems at the South Westphalia University of Applied Sciences and is set to graduate by next year.
Mazhar says patience got him through the arduous process. He warns internationals particularly from Pakistan hoping to study in the Bundesrepublik not to rely on obtaining a visa even if they have good grades and fulfill the prerequisites. He had planned on working in Pakistan if his appeal was rejected.
“If you are truly serious about studying in Germany, then apply,” Mazhar said. “But you’ll have to cross your fingers for a visa.”
‘Applicants from crisis areas’
The Local spoke to a handful of other Pakistanis – all of whom prefer to remain anonymous due to fear this report would affect their chances of obtaining a visa in future – who said they were rejected German student visas in recent years despite university admission offers.
One woman was told by the Islamabad embassy last year that her grades were “very poor” in subjects considered essential in order to pursue her desired course in Germany. Her rejection letter states “a lack of intention to study and abuse of the study visa could be concluded.” It goes on to say that “the pressure for young people to leave Pakistan for better prospects in life is high.”
But it’s not just prospective students from Pakistan who have had this experience. Samir from Morocco told Spiegel Online in 2015 that, in spite of admission offers from five German institutions as well as proof of sufficient funds and German language skills, he was denied a visa.
Similar to Mazhar’s letter, Samir’s local embassy stated in his rejection letter it had “considerable doubts about the seriousness of study intentions and the success of the studies.”
Applicants from crisis areas can face similar difficulties to Samir, reported Spiegel Online, adding that authorities could suspect them of being more likely looking to flee war areas than to be seriously interested in studying.
In 2014, a Tunisian who claims he was repeatedly denied a visa despite several acceptances from universities in Germany took his case to court. But he wasn’t as lucky as Mazhar – judges in the Berlin administrative court ruled he could still be denied a visa.
According to the ruling, German missions abroad may ensure that student visas are not abused and in issuing them, security concerns do not have to be justified. A Federal Foreign Office spokeswoman however did not provide an answer when asked whether they had proof that student visas are being abused.
Generally speaking, where the prospective student is applying from does not affect their chances of obtaining a student visa in Germany, the spokeswoman told The Local.
Student visa quotas vary depending on the non-EU country the candidate is applying from, but this is due to many factors, according to the spokeswoman. Moreover, “each visa application is examined on a case-by-case basis.”
The issue of prospective students from abroad being denied German visas “exists and affects people from a range of countries,” managing director at Study.EU Gerrit Blöss told The Local.
“But as far as we’re aware, it does not happen too often,” Blöss said, adding that the process is the way it is “to ensure the legitimacy of the visas granted.”
Students in Tübingen. Photo: DPA
There’s also recently been a “dramatic rise” in the number of foreign student visa applications, meaning not only that processing times are longer than usual, but there are “squeezes in several countries such as in Iran, Morocco and Tunisia,” Marijke Wahlers, head of the department of international affairs at the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK), explained.
On the question of how many student visa applications are rejected each year, the Foreign Office spokeswoman did not provide an answer. The Foreign Office does not record how many people apply for student visas in consular offices worldwide, nor does it record how many are rejected, according to Spiegel Online.
Organizations which support prospective students in Germany, such as Uni-Assist e.V. and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), also could not give information on how many foreigners are denied visas annually.
Booming foreign student numbers
Meanwhile the number of international students in Germany is at an all-time high. Some 360,000 foreigners studied at higher education institutions in Germany in 2017, the HRK states. This is an increase on the previous year of 5.5 percent and according to the federal education ministry, a rise of 37 percent compared to a decade ago.
Now, one in every ten university students in Germany comes from outside the country. The largest number of international students based on figures from DAAD come from China, India, Russia, Austria and Italy. The number of Pakistani students, though, is continuing to grow, with 3,836 in 2016 – an increase of 1.5 percent from the year before.
“The German science and higher education system is globally structured, globally networked and cosmopolitan in the best sense of the word,” federal education minister Johanna Wanka announced in a press release last summer.
Germany consistently tops global university rankings in terms of its attractiveness for foreign students, science subjects and prestigiousness. For instance, a study earlier this year showed that within Europe, Germany beat out the UK and France based on its quality of education, cost of living as well as life and career prospects.
Not only are more and more foreign students coming here, a survey carried out by Studying in Germany found that almost 70 percent of them plan on looking for a job in the country beyond graduation. The majority of those who want to stay are from Africa and Asia and three in every ten international students plans on staying permanently.
Students at European University Viadrina's International Day last year in Frankfurt. Photo: DPA
Germany’s severe shortage of skilled workers
Studying in Germany founder Besart Bajrami told The Local in May that many students from developing countries “see staying in Germany as a solution to a more secure financial well-being because of its thriving economy, job market, and excellent quality of life.”
But Bajrami also thinks this influx of “young and skilled workers” from abroad could do wonders for the German economy.
More than 1.2 million vacant employment positions nationwide were recorded at the end of 2017, a recent report showed. Germany could lack 3 million skilled workers by 2030, a study found last year. The country also faces significant shortages of employees in everything from the IT sector to the education industry.
The question thus arises: can Germany afford to be denying student visas to foreigners when the country is in dire need of workers across a range of industries?
According to the Federal Foreign Office, German universities only assess prospective students on aspects of higher education, rather than aspects having to do with migration.
For now, since German embassies are allowed to reject student visas based on whether or not they think the permit will be abused, those keen on studying in Deutschland might just continue to be denied the opportunity to do so.
Mazhar considers himself one of the lucky ones, though admits that unlike other Pakistanis he knows who also failed to get student visas, he was motivated to appeal because he believed his rejections were unfounded.
He says he hopes his story sheds light on the ongoing issue of “unfair” student visa refusals by German embassies abroad and paints a realistic picture of the visa application process for internationals keen on studying in Germany.
On the question of whether or not he plans on working in the country after his studies, he says he is not sure, and that it depends on the opportunities he finds within the EU or back home.