Britain has temporarily suspended student visa applications from northern India following a dramatic rise in the number of applicants.

The UK Border Agency, which enforces Britain's immigration and customs regulations, on Saturday instructed its visa application centres in New Delhi, Chandigarh and Jalandhar to stop accepting applications for student visas from February 1.

Officials say the system has become overwhelmed and there are concerns many of the cases are not genuine.

The sharp rise was recorded between October and December last year.

New Delhi, Chandigarh and Jalandhar had received about 1,000 student visa applications from October to December in 2007.

But the number shot to 1,800 within the same period in 2008 and climbed to 13,500 last year.

Chris Dix, regional director of the UK Border Agency, said: "This is a response to an unprecedented rise in the number of applications we received under this part of points based system."

He said the move was "taken in conjunction with concerns that we have about the quality of some of those application".

Visa application centres in western and southern India will, however, continue their operations as usual.

Genuine students apply for the visas around June and July for the academic year that begins in September.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies