The UK immigrant witch-hunt arrives at the university

 

The political rhetoric that has blamed immigrants for the state of British health care system, for the lack of schools, of houses, or for the overcrowding of London has carried out even more devastating effects than generating headline after headline in the country’s broadsheets.

Following hundred of thousands of European residents in the UK, I applied for a resident card just after the Brexit referendum. Aware of the six months the process could take, and stripped from all my documents, I saw myself with a letter from the Home Office confirming my application. They said I could present this document in case I needed to work, or in order to confirm my status in any legal query.

Aside with all Home Office’s bad reputation when dealing with immigration issues in a decent, humanitarian fashion, that part worked well. While I had no documents to re-register at the University, for example, I had a reference number, and a letter through institutions could check my status through a website.

However, when attempting to re-register myself at my university, things became a bit odd. Going ahead for the third year of my PhD, the administration took the letter, but warned me I should bring my resident ID, once it arrived. I agreed.

A week later, the Student Centre emailed me urging that I appeared at the desk to show again my letter (which was in thesis photocopied during my first visit). Now the news was that I was late on my registration (untrue, as I first appeared on time), and I needed further approval from my department before continuing with my registration.

With that sorted out, weeks later they enquired me again, and I was urged again to present the Home Office letter, and warned, again, of the consequences in case I fail to show that documentation. As this was the third time in a row they made a follow up, I said was feeling harassed as my registration was being delayed for reasons out of my control, whereas my real wish was to record a complaint in the regulator for harassment and discrimination. That last wording solved the thing for a while.

Just to be clear, at any point I questioned the University’s mission of keep up with documentation and compliance of its students. As they correctly argued, that was “Home Office’s pressure”. I understood it.

My argument dwells on their lack throughout the process of any fear of seeming too inquisitive or to appear they were performing the police. While fast and welcoming to receive the high fees they charge, their insistence to check and re-check my status showed the lack of respect with any possible personal stress that students in UK have to handle in case anything go wrong with their visas.

Having to deal with the 80-page application I was managing, my PhD, work demands, and the ruthless university imposition was, for them, for “the sake of the law”, but it is a burden anyway. Those thinking of studying abroad should take seriously before deciding going somewhere with a system like this.

Two months later, I received another email, this time from an anonymous mailbox called “Visa Compliance”. They asked me if I had “already” received my ID and remembered me on my legal responsibility of “being compliant” with them. Fair enough, but was it depending on me? No. Was there anything I could do if the Home Office takes six months to work on it? No. Yet, why were they mailing me repeatedly? Why reminding me on my “non-compliance”?

The only justification I found for that heavy approach was in the emerging discourse against people like me, who, like millions, decided to settle in the UK from abroad. This is not about settling down as a refugee (they must suffer much more), but for studying, working, and living an ordinary, taxpayer life. In two years in this university, no problem I had with this issue. Since Brexit, however, not only the pressure was evidently increasing, as the impatience, and blindness to my justifications were growing irresistible in them.

In late December, with my ID finally in hand, I once more went to the Student Centre desk. Not to my surprise, after hearing it was all right, a fresh email asked me to return with my passport for further verification. They gave me not only a new deadline, but also harsher words, though I was accepting my “duty” of fulfilling their capricious demands, notwithstanding I am weakest party in this story.

It might be different to another European citizen living in the UK, it might be worse, as I have learnt it can be. In a charitable perspective, Higher Education in the UK is becoming no longer different from any other corporate industry in the UK. In any case, should this experience serve as awareness for anyone looking into the UK for study purposes, it is better know wherein you are stepping.

 

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