Protest mounts against UKBA’s London Met decision as students tell ELL their visa nightmares

Pic: Hands Off Our Classmates

Students and lecturers across east London will demonstrate outside the Home Office on Wednesday to demand an amnesty for 2,700 international students at risk of deportation.

Protesters will gather outside the Home Office’s Marsham Street headquarters at 1pm to voice their outrage over last week’s shock decision to revoke London Met’s immigration status, plunging thousands of students into fear that they may be deported before they can finish their studies.

The protest is being organised by the London Met branch of the Universities and Colleges Union, which represents academics and lecturers, in support of a petition launched last week calling for an amnesty for the students who are halfway through courses.

Mark Campbell, chair of the London Met UCU, said: “We’ve called this lobby to defend our students. We need as many students as possible to join us, from London Met and elsewhere.”

See the Facebook group here and the petition here. Over 5600 people had signed it at the time of writing and many others had sent ‘solidarity photos’ to the Tumblr blog ‘Hands Off Our Classmates‘.

The university is also launching legal action against the UKBA.

In advance of the protest, EastLondonLines is publishing the views of current and former overseas students who have had trouble with the UK Border Agency – and we want to hear from others.

We will be publishing the views of students in stages over the next two days.

María Jesús González came to the UK from Chile to study theatre at Goldsmiths, University of London. But after paying through the nose to correct a bureaucratic error which saw her sent the wrong visa for her course, and studying happily for a year, she was accused, humiliated, detained and kicked out of the country without being allowed to collect her possessions.

Writing to EastLondonLines she said: “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.

“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.”

You can read her full story here.

Anurag Tagat, a graduate of the prestigious St Xavier’s College in Mumbai, India, who studied in Britain this year, said people from his country were “desperate” but “determined” to get an international education. He fears the decision at London Met may discourage them.

Tagat said: “Countless reports in the Indian press on bogus colleges in countries such as the UK, Australia and even within India indicate just how much importance higher education is given and how seriously the decision to study abroad is taken. But the recent actions taken against London Met University is bound to create doubts in their mind.

“We seem to have a system where the institution and the student have agreed to terms of study, but the UKBA can create complications over things as minor as their proficiency in the English language.”

Read his full story here.

Another Indian graduate, who is now a skilled worker for a major British company but asked that his name be concealed, said the UK’s paranoia about students overstaying their visas makes it almost impossible to give jobs to good candidates from abroad.

He said: “Despite popular perceptions, getting a visa to stay in the UK after completing your studies is incredibly hard, and keeps getting harder each year.

“Job interviews are stressful enough without having to worry about whether you will be instantly overlooked – no matter how qualified you are – because of the country you happened to be born in. And that’s before we even get into a discussion about how you are completely at the mercy of your employer if they do sponsor you for a visa, because you lose the visa when you lose the job.

“No one doubts that there are people abusing the system, but somehow it always seems to be those who follow the rules and play everything by the book who pay the price.”

Find his full story here.

Goldsmiths lecturer and branch UCU president Des Freedman, who helped set up the petition, said the decision was likely driven by government attempts to bring immigration below levels promised before the election, calling it “a political attack and not a simple administrative failure”. 232,000 students enter the UK every year on study visas.

Freedman said: “While the government treats international students as potentially ‘bogus’ and universities treat them as lucrative ‘cash cows’, we need to defend their rights to study freely without scapegoating them or threatening them with deportation.”

“Many people inside business and education are now furious with the government for pursuing what they see as a disastrous immigration policy, which will deter prospective international students. It jeopardises the approximately £5 billion that these students contribute to the economy.”

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