- Tower Hamlets
María Jesús González is a graduate of Goldsmiths, University of London. She studied Theatre and Performance and is originally from Chile.
When I heard what is happening to Metropolitan University’s foreign students, I was enraged but not surprised.
In 2010, after I was granted by a scholarship by the Chilean government to study abroad, I immediately decided to go to London. I had always wanted to see the city, because I am an actress and London has always been seen as the most innovative and avant-garde city for arts and theatre. I applied to study Performance and was glad to be accepted at Goldsmiths.
But from the beginning I had problems with my student visa. First of all, the UKBA denied it to me because I had problems with my application form. Bureaucracy. The second time I applied, they gave me the visa, but only for three months, even though I was accepted to attend a program that lasted a year. There was nothing I could do about it and I traveled the day after I got it.
When I arrived to London the airport official wanted to deport me because he thought my visa was false. I had all the documents he was asking for scanned in my computer, but he refused to look at them. When he finally accepted that my visa was okay, he told me he was allowing me to enter the country, but after three months I had to go back to Chile and apply for the visa again. At this point I was absolutely stressed out. I thought I could apply for the extension of the visa from London, but this man was saying the opposite and I didn’t have the £2,000 a return ticket would cost. I thought I was going to have to leave my studies before starting and I was about to collapse.
Finally, I put on some courage to stay cool and entered the country. I confirmed that I was able to apply for the visa from London, so I did it, for the third time. During this process (which incurs a hefty fee each time you embark on it), you are constantly asked to prove that you have no intentions to stay in UK. Unfairly, they make you feel as you are a suspect all the time, when all you want to do is study there (and pay ridiculously high fees, by the way).
Anyway, I did my best during the year, trying to get as much as I could from college and the city, known as the cultural capital of the world, where citizen are supposed to be treated with respect and dignity. Unfortunately, that is not my final perception of it.
When I finished my studies I wanted to stay longer, apply for a PhD, and a new scholarship in my country. So I though it was a good option to apply for the post-studying visa. Unfortunately, the Chilean government did not approve this and what was worst, they gave me that answer when my student visa was about to expire. Bureaucracy again.
As I did not want to be there illegally, but didn’t have time to work everything out and leave on time, I decided to visit a friend in Oslo and re-enter as a tourist, since according the agreements between the Chilean and the British government we are able to enter the country for three months.
On my way back, when I arrived to Stansted airport, they denied my entrance. Without any evidence, they argued that I had intentions to stay there and work illegally. I explained in detail why I was not able to arrange everything before my visa expired; it was just a timing problem. I showed them all the papers needed, but the immigration officer did not want to believe what I was saying. After hours of being treated as if I was a criminal, I just wanted to figure out my return. I beg them for permission to enter the country just for 24 hours to get my things and ask for the month in advance you pay when you rent a room. Of course they denied me that possibility.
After humiliating me, treating me like if I was guilty of a crime and making me spend a night detained, sitting in a chair, waiting to know what was going to happen to me, they managed to deport me without any reason beside the aim of showing their power. I lost money, clothes, books, and didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to any of my new friends or the life I had lived during the last year. Now I’m back in Chile, working as an actress, but I have this undeserved stigma over my shoulders.
I think what is behind what happened to me and what might happen to Metropolitan University overseas students is pure xenophobia and fear of what is different to the perfect British way of life.