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The UK’s problem with overseas students is pure xenophobia

Pic: María Jesús González

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.

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8 Responses to The UK’s problem with overseas students is pure xenophobia

  1. Am Waliul Hasnat

    September 4, 2012 at 12:30 am

    Basically, this is so true what she said. Not only her but also a lots of students are treated everyday like either as a servant or a criminal. They can’t do want they should to do and therefore suspect and treat every student like a criminal. This is the worst country to be treated as an international student. If somebody ask me to come here, now I say to go Canada or somewhere else.

  2. James

    September 4, 2012 at 12:58 am


    I am so sorry for the difficulties that you have faced.

    The basic problem is that millions of illiterate anti-western people have arrived here and are arriving here. Over about 20 years various governments have found it in their interests to support such immigration without a mandate from the British people.

    Now that voters have expressed concerns, the present government has promised action.

    Instead of targeting the undesirables – close family marriages for example, the mad bastards in power have gone after the most desirable potential immigrants.

    The reason is presumably that there are no votes in it. If we deny a first cousin marriage from Pakistan the whole extended family will vote against the gubmint. You have no such support so the gubmint tell you to piss right off.

    I wish you could come here but for some reason we have decided to willfully destroy one of the UK’s most lucrative exports simply so that mad mullahs can continue to overwhelm us with their medieval culture without concern.

    There have of course been many abuses of Student Visas but this issue should be tackled in a way that does not disastrously affect genuine university candidates.

    It is not Xenophobia, it’s Pure Politics.

    Our Politics though do seem a bit less mad than those presently displayed in the USA.


  3. will

    September 4, 2012 at 1:29 am

    London is the least Xenophobic city in the world. It is the least Xenophobic Country in the world and so are its Citizens. You obviously have a chip on your shoulder.

  4. Graeme

    September 4, 2012 at 2:06 am

    This article was spot-on until the last paragraph. It’s more to do with the overzealous jobsworths who man the borders than Britain’s generally being xenophobic. They aren’t, and the country hosts 10s of thousands of foreign students.

    You have to keep in mind though that thousands of people do abuse the right to study here and then disappear and start to work. We already have a huge amount of immigration from EU countries, so we have to be careful, half the world wants to come to this small island. That said, if we have to deny people entry, we need to do it fairly and with the least amount of distress and expense, which the incompetent system is failing to do.

  5. jacques m

    September 4, 2012 at 2:28 am

    Will, I completely agree. The immigration officials the second time around (when you came from norway) weren’t so far off…without funding, etc, how exactly we’re you going to support yourself? In any case, it sounds like a horrible and stressful experience, and I agree (very selectively with islamophobic james) that the uk is shooting itself in the pocketbook by endangering its export of largely second class education to the rest of the world that can’t make it to better institutions in the US, BUT your claim of xenophobia is laughable. Your experience does not make london xenophobic, nor does the UK government’s policy. Hilariously, I have a kenyan friend who had a horrible ordeal with immigration officials in chile, in fact. . . He warned me against dating my ex, a chilean with funding for a phd, because chileans were racist and thus he would be rather incompatible with my group of friends. It turned out to be true of my ex, but I surely won’t damn santiago for it.

  6. araboh

    September 4, 2012 at 3:13 am

    Maria is not alone with this experience. Let’s pray that those people at the UKBA position today realise the damage they are doing to the image of the Country.
    I have had a personal experience with a UKBA Desk staff, whose stupid indiscretion to refuse me entry was overruled by his superior; at the end of which (not being satisfied with the ruling) he still had to mention that, he would have sent me back if he was to decide. Thank God, he did not have the final say.
    I have had my step son’s visiting visa denied. Thank God the Tribunal was available to decide in our favour. But it took 2 years for the UKBA to process the visa resulting from the appeal. Not every situation can go through an appeal because of time factor.
    I will not agree that what is happening is xenophobic, it is just a situation encouraged by the government of the day; It is dangerous politics. A proverb of my people says: ‘ If you close your eyes because you don’t want to see someone, you could end up missing to see someone else you Will not like to miss.’
    I am aware of people who went elsewhere because they were unjustly denied by UKBA who have become useful addition to the Citizenry of another Country.

  7. Ivan

    September 5, 2012 at 4:08 am

    It would appear the authorities were right in being suspicious of you after your ruse of going to Oslo and then back on a tourist visa! You sound dishonest and therefore obviously of bad character. Hooray for the border authorities doing their jobs correctly in this case. You also complain about the fees you have to pay applying for the visas; you think the British taxpayers should pay for them!? Therein lies the problem with your sort. You expect everything should be given to you on a plate because you come from a third-world country. People in Britain are struggling also. The time of paying for all.in sundry has passed. Good riddance, get over it.

  8. AH

    September 6, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    @Ivan, about visa fees, it is wrong to exclude overseas students from the category of ‘British taxpayers’, as you implied. Overseas students are legal residents in this country and they are subject to exactly the same tax law. They pay income tax if they have income (unless they earn below the tax free allowance) and they pay VAT as well when they make their purchases. And they have no rights to claim benefits.

    In addition, it is unwise to charge such high visa fees because they bring money to this country to spend and generally you don’t want to discourage export. The money they pay into the packets of local community is being offset by high visa fees.

    The main problem highlighted in this article is the inefficiency and incompetence of the UKBA. These bureaucrats are wasting taxpayers’ money because they did not even try to take on illegal immigrants. They only pretend to be tough and harass genuine overseas students by constantly changing their own rules and raising visa fees, which drive away legitimate overseas students and diminish the money pumped into the UK economy. I don’t think the author means that people in Britain are xenophobic. Rather, it is the government secretary and minister are xenophobic. If ‘xenophobic’ is too strong an accuse than I would say it is pure stupidity.

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