Why We Want International Students to Work in the UK

Originally posted on HuffPost Student Voices

Theresa May has decided that international students in the UK will be booted home after graduation. In addition, they will not be able to work part-time alongside their studies. According to the Home Office, this is to ensure “that student visas are used for study and ‘not as a backdoor to the country’s job market.’ “

As someone who has just completed a year abroad at Loyola University New Orleans, I know how difficult it can be to survive without having a part-time job abroad. In my first year at Birmingham University I was deep into my overdraft. This led to me taking on two part-time jobs in order to cover my rent and basic living costs in my second year of study. I am also a recipient of the maintenance grant, which is now to be scrapped. If you can imagine that two jobs and the maintenance grant just got me through my second year of university, you can see how impossible it is going to be without the grant, and how difficult it will be for those who are not allowed to work. Only the elite will have the privilege of studying abroad. The tuition fees are already significantly higher for international students. Universities make a vast chunk of their money from them.

Under my student visa regulations at Loyola, I was only able to get a job on campus, which was related to my course. In my first semester I worked for two hours a week, as an actor for training student counsellors. In my second semester, I had the same job but for only one hour per week. The pay was $10 an hour. Although I enjoyed the work, it was not enough to support me and I had to borrow money from my parents and Grandfather to get me through the year. Most students would not have had this luxury.

Before the end of my final semester abroad, I auditioned for a play that the Theatre and English departments at Loyola were putting on. This would be performed at a theatre festival at the University of Toronto. I happily got a place in the production, and this meant staying in New Orleans for a month after the semester finished to rehearse. I noted that my visa expired on the 9th June, but I applied for an ESTA visa in addition, allowing me another 90 days in the country – just to be extra safe! I planned to come back to New Orleans for one night after my trip to Toronto to collect my belongings before flying home. When I got to the airport I was separated from the rest of the cast and the professors, being the only international student on the trip. The first border patrol officer refused to look at my ESTA visa, to my confusion, and sent me into a different room for more security checks. I asked the next officer I encountered if I could phone my professor to let the others know where I was, so as not to worry them. The officer replied that I could not use my phone, and when I asked how long she thought I would be there, she retorted, “well, it won’t be so long if you stop asking me questions!” I really had no idea why I was there, and when another person asked what would happen if they missed their flight, they were told that they would have to pay for another one.

Eventually I was called up for questioning. The officer asked me what I was doing in Toronto and New Orleans, how I had paid for my flight, how I had been earning money, where I was living, etc. She told me that my visa was expired and I should have gone home as soon as my studies ended, despite having paid extra for an ESTA visa, as advised by the study abroad office at Loyola. The officer told me that I should have been deported and to stop playing ignorant, she initially made me believe that I would not be flying anywhere that day, and that I would have to wait in this holding room, without being able to inform the others on the trip what was going on. After copious amounts of apologising, near tears, she took pity on me and I somehow managed to make my flight back to New Orleans. This was only after I was able to show her proof that my flight back to London was the following day, so she was aware that I absolutely did not want to live or work illegally in the States. She informed me that when I returned to London I would have to apply for another ESTA visa, stating that I lived in the USA illegally. Obviously, I was distraught to hear this. After a year of building friendships, I may never be allowed back into the USA. When I returned home, I looked over all of my documents, and discovered that I definitely had paid for my ESTA visa before my original visa expired and that my original visa had still not expired!

I would hate to think that an international student in the UK would be treated like this, simply due to fear that they might want to work there. I had no desire to ever work illegally in the United States, and was still treated in this way. The international students in the UK provide British universities with so much money, it would really not be detrimental to us in any significant way for them to work part-time or find graduate jobs after studying. Many of us Brits love to travel, study abroad, work abroad, and retire abroad. We need to be more open to those who wish to do the same in the UK.

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