Dealing with the “red tape”

If you look to the university world rankings, the UK dominates 40 percent of the top ten.

It is therefore no surprise that we are the second biggest home of international students (beaten only by the USA) and that, for some, the news of competition brings concern.

Whether jealousy, genuine economic worry, or good old fashioned fear of the unknown (racism), the UK doesnít make it easy for international students to stay after they graduate.

Johanne Elster Hanson, a student from Norway, told Concrete that she’d certainly like to work in the UK after her degree – but not for more opportunities.

She said: “Within my field (translation/journalism/Scandinavian-English literary culture) I could just as well have done a degree or been granted a PhD in Norway, but Iíve lived there all my life and now prefer living in England.”

But Hanson is in a different position to a lot of international students: “Norway have ensured that their citizens will be able to live and work in England after Brexit. Also, as a Norwegian, I don’t face the same stigma as some other Europeans who come and work in the UK do. It’s been nauseating to experience first-hand how some foreigners are considered to be ‘good’ (i.e. coming from a rich, predominantly white country that’s never been a part of the EU) whilst others are not. So while I don’t feel particularly ‘encouraged’ to stay and work here from a political perspective, I’m encouraged by the quality of my academic study and the prospects this has given me.”

Where Norway have gone above and beyond to protect their students, the same cannot be said for America. Shelby Cooke recognises that there’s a “lot of red tape” preventing her, as an American, from staying to work in the UK because of the difficulty of securing a work visa.

She said: “In defence of the government though, they do allow me to have an extra 6 months on my student visa to have time to find employment in the UK, but it’s also kind of counterproductive because you can only apply to companies that are registered to accept immigrant workers and you still have to qualify as being ‘more exceptional than a British worker’ for them to sponsor your visa. So… it’s pretty difficult to convince companies to sponsor you when they can employ a British worker and not have to pay extra for my visa.”

Yet where governments falter, universities, including UEA, have tried to support their students where possible. Cooke added: “I definitely wouldn’t say I’ve felt encouraged by the country to stay, but the university does offer advice on how to stay – even though they preface it by saying that it’s difficult.”

But does the opposite apply? Are all the Brits who set sail, jet off and clamber over the big wide world in search of an education treated in the same way? Speaking to Amelia Rentell, currently on a year abroad studying in Oklahoma, she said: “It’s still a very personal choice because I don’t feel encouraged to continue working in the USA after my degree, but I feel less scared or apprehensive about spending a period of time away from home in a different culture or country. Whether that be work or otherwise. I’m certainly not discouraged.”

And that is the key difference – the UK is not simply failing to encourage international students to stay, the government’s choices are actively discouraging it. You can study but you can’t stay. If you look to the world rankings, I wonder how the UK does on friendship?


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September 2021
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

If you would like to get in touch, email the Editor on Concrete.Editor@uea.ac.uk. Follow us at @ConcreteUEA.