An often overlooked area of migration are international students. This is due to their position as students, associated with temporary migration, or assumptions surrounding significant wealth. Following on from research we conducted on COVID-19 lockdowns and destitution, and from subsequent engagement with international students on specifics they have raised, we will be carrying out further work on key issues, including housing, enrolment, and university errors and surveillance.
Many students have experienced delays in receiving their visas, whether from the Home Office or from delays in universities submitting the necessary documents. Recently, we have been contacted by several international students who have found significant issues within the enrolment process. They shared that they have been given the wrong dates to arrive by their university and then left to deal with the consequences of potential visa issues in relation to the university’s error. There seems to be little regard to the visa process timeline, particularly for countries where there is more difficulty and more questioning during the visa process. Universities have placed an expectation on the international students to be present in the UK to formally enrol and undertake the induction process based on their timelines and do not give enough grace to visa and travel arrangement delays.
The hostile environment has been present on university campuses for almost 10 years. They have been using varying forms of surveillance to monitor international students’ attendance of classes, as a certain level of attendance is a requirement of Tier 4 visas. We have heard that this can range from lecturers taking a register of students physically present, to being asked to sign in via a QR code or tap their student ID at the entrance of a lecture theatre.
We are concerned about the reach of surveillance and creep of borders into lectures, ostracising international students from home students, and leaving them under heavy scrutiny.
Barriers to support
There seems to be a woeful lack of support for international students when they experience issues like tech issues. We have spoken to several students who have faced technical issues in submitting assignments during the course of their degrees, and have failed to be supported by their unions or even guided to their wellbeing teams when they are overwhelmed by the situation.
International students already face barriers to support because they have no recourse to public funds (NRPF). This is exacerbated by not being allowed to work beyond a set number of hours per week. There are inadequate structures in place to support these students: too little is offered through hardship funds, which they may be rejected from, particularly as international students, and there is inadequate signposting to external support. Little consideration is then given to students who face any extraordinary financial issues.
Rigidity and no clarity in universities’ policies and procedures
We have discovered that there is unnecessary rigidity, and a lack of consideration on how universities’ policies and procedures are applied. Universities fail to understand how resits of exams or assignments can leave an international student having failed to complete their course, and therefore unable to achieve a qualification. When universities set resits because of technical errors the students have faced, they leave the international student in a dilemma- their visas will expire prior to the resit dates, or they won’t get the grading until after their visas have expired so making them ineligible for a Graduate visa.
In collaboration with London Renters’ Union (LRU), we are working on housing information for international students, as we have been made aware of the struggles international students face in the private rental sector. This includes poor housing conditions, excessive costs, and harassment from landlords, which can all heighten the risk of destitution and exploitation.
What else are we going to do?
We will be using a variety of methods to understand the experiences and key issues facing international students. This includes a survey of international students that we intend to use to adapt our Know Your Rights (KYR) guide and inform our advocacy work in this area. We encourage international students to reach out to us concerning issues they or their peers have faced.
We are using a range of ways to influence and support those that reach out to us but ultimately we want to create change for all international students so that no-one has to be burdened with these issues in the first place.
You can find more work and comments regarding international students here.