By Tania Farias
Anita Morales, a 38-year-old Colombian single mother whose real name has been changed to protect her identity, arrived in London on March 2010 to study English as a second language. At the beginning, her Tier 4 student visa allowed her to work 20 hours per week. Then, she renewed it and her new Tier 4 student visa allowed her to work just 10 hours, and from last summer, she is not allowed to work due to changes introduced in the student visa system in July 2011.
With the changes, students such as Morales, who are not sponsored by a higher education institution or a publicly funded further education college, don’t have permission to work while studying in the UK. “At the moment I have a visa, but I am not allowed to work anymore,” said Morales, “The situation is very stressful because London is a very expensive city. I am hoping to find new opportunities here, but I do not know how much time I could be here. I just want to finish my studies and live like a respectable person”.
The government said the changes, which affect non-EU students coming to the UK, were vital to tackle abuses of the system and meet the government’s target of reducing annual net immigration.
“There were certainly some abuses to the system but these measures are not proportional to the situation,” said Juan Camilo Cock, London Project Manager at the Migrants’ Right Network. “You could be hampering economic growth. Even the universities argue that many of their international students come first to the UK to do courses in order to reach a good English level and then enter university. The other issue is that students were filling gaps in the labour market up to a point. There are certain jobs that do not have very good professional futures, but they might be alright to do for one year or two years if you are studying at the same time”.
Many international students in the UK are non–European. In 2010, 181,000 students (77% of arrivals) came to the UK from outside Europe, according to the Identity and Passport Services (IPS).
According to Juan Camilo Cock, the Colombian community in London could be one of the Latin American communities most affected. A recent report conducted by Queen Mary University showed that significant numbers of Colombian students had recently arrived in London.
“Many universities in Colombia ask their students to either take language courses while they are studying or pass a language test, so many people were travelling abroad before graduating to learn English. It was an opportunity to develop their professional skills, to gain an experience, a valuable experience abroad and to comply with certain requirements in universities,” said Cock.
This is the case of Natalia Agudelo, a 23-year-old Colombian student who came to the UK for 9 months, because she wanted to improve her English. She came to London with a student visa, which allowed her to work 10 hours per week. However her minimal weekly wage was hardly enough to cover some of her expenses.
“I went to London because I wanted to improve my English, to know new people, new cultures and places, and gain some experiences, but unfortunately, I could not apply for some jobs. In my country I have a degree as a Business Manager, but in Europe it is not valid, so I had to look for unskilled jobs like cleaner, waitress, nanny, baby sitter and so on.”
Douglas Pereira, a 27-year-old Brazilian student who lived in London for six months, said, “When I went to the UK last year, I got a student visa with the right to work 10 hours per week, which I think is very little to live in London, so I had to come from Brazil with a very good cash reserve”.
On average, student migrants have shorter stays in the UK than those who migrate for family or work, according to the Non-European Students Migrations to the UK study by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.
The real effects of the changes in the visa system remain to be seen, but Cock thinks that a lot of people who need to fund part of their stay by working may be either be discouraged to come to the UK or will choose to go to other English-speaking countries that are either cheaper or that allow them to work.