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Branch Resolution: Resisting the hostile environment

This branch notes: 

  1. The Hostile Environment is the collective term for a set of policies used by the Government to make life more difficult for people with irregular migration status. 
  2. Campaign groups such as Liberty [1], Unis Resist Border Controls [2] and We Belong (previously Let Us Learn) [3] have made it clear that the University participates in upholding and supporting the Hostile Environment. 
  3. During the UCU strikes of 2018-2020, International Students were threatened with deportation if they refused to cross picket lines [4]. 
  4. In 2018 alone, over 7000 students “mistakenly” had their visas revoked after being falsely accused of cheating. Despite many of these students being left jobless or homeless as a result, many Universities were silent over the deportations [5].
  5.  Many long-term UK residents are also blocked from student finance and forced to pay international student fees, blocking them from getting an education and forcing many into poverty [6].
  6. Thousands of migrant students across the UK face destitution, skyrocketing debt and potential deportation due to the economic impact of the Coronavirus and skyrocketing fees [7]. 
  7. These policies, and others like them, have a disproportionate effect on BAME and working-class students [8].

Believes: 

  1. Universities should be places of learning, not instruments of border control. 
  2. It is the duty of the University of Birmingham to support all students, including international students, or those with irregular immigration status.  
  3. In times of a pandemic, we should provide support for the most vulnerable. 
  4. We should support the campaign to end the hostile environment on campus.  

Resolves 

  1. To encourage the University of Birmingham to adopt the Pledge Against the Hostile Environment (see Appendix 1)
  2. To share the pledge on BUCU social media channels and make a public statement of our support.  
  3. To amplify the voices of migrant students and those standing in solidarity with them.

Appendix 1:

To all member Vice-Chancellors and Principals of Universities UK, 

We write to you demanding urgent action for migrant justice at our universities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the conditions of hardship, precarity and fear that ‘hostile environment’ policies seek to create for migrants. While migrants in refugee camps and detention centres face death on a horrifying scale, migrant students and workers are being made destitute and denied access to crisis support. 

Universities must break from this vicious system of exclusion and exploitation. Act now to protect migrant students and workers. Duties of ‘immigration control’ imposed on universities are an attack on public education; defend our rights and freedoms against them.

Nearly 500 university staff and students wrote to universities in March condemning failure to fulfill their duty of care towards international students and staff. They demanded immediate suspension of all monitoring activities and the greatest possible extension of visa sponsorship during and after the pandemic. As we enter a new academic term under lockdown, we write again, reinforcing and augmenting those demands. We call on you to:

Provide relief against hardship
Nearly all students and staff who are in the UK on visas have ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF), meaning they are denied most state-funded benefits and housing assistance. Some who are not themselves subject to NRPF will have close relations, including dependents, who are, and whose circumstances directly affect their own. In the current crisis, as always, NRPF cuts a vital lifeline. Newspapers have reported students starving.  Migrants will have to continue paying the extortionate visa and citizenship application fees, including an enormous surcharge for basic healthcare. NRPF must be abolished, and is currently under legal challenge. In the immediate future, universities should break the barricade on migrants’ access to public support. 

Universities must buffer against the assault on migrants’ survival and dignity –

  1. Make hardship funds available to those facing hardship related to immigration status. Expand conditions for access to include issues due to one’s own or close relation’s NRPF status or visa/application fees. ‘Close relations’ should be understood more broadly than immediate family, as some, particularly queer and trans people and survivors of domestic abuse, may be estranged and have other intimate circles.
  2. Make hardship funds available to staff as well as students. While universities must first and foremost fulfill the demands laid out by unions, employees should additionally have access to immigration-specific hardship support.
  3. Resource hardship funds sufficiently to be able to provide aforementioned support. Include increased funds in future financial plans.
  4. Make application for hardship funds simple and easy, and not requiring extensive proof of severe hardship. The hostile environment operates partly by turning every process into a bureaucratic maze for migrants. Support provided must not reproduce this experience.

Stop all hostile environment surveillance:
The Home Office’s temporary suspension of requirements to monitor migrants applies to universities. This reveals once more that universities are an instrument of the hostile environment. The Home Office suspension is trivial and opportunistic. Students and staff on Tier-2 and Tier-4 visas, who throughout their study and work have had their attendance and location monitored, their addresses recorded, their immigration status scrutinised, suddenly find that the government is able to suspend this surveillance and relax visa restrictions. Medical and nursing staff and students have their visas extended and work limitations removed so that they may toil to hold together a collapsing health system. 

Universities must take a courageous stance against the hostile environment, beginning by interpreting this suspension as a firewall –

  1. Release a statement to all staff and students communicating the university’s positive stance on the suspension, and intention to interpret in a maximalist way.
  2. Stop any measures that collect and store data relevant to visa conditions. These should include measures applied in a generalised fashion (e.g. attendance monitoring of all students) as well as measures applied only to international students and staff (e.g. more frequent check-ins with supervisors, randomised phone calls to offices, forms to maintain up-to-date address and contact details).
  3. Specify, in the statement and on a specific page on the university website, every process of data-collection and reporting that was previously in place for Home Office compliance and will now stop, along with the date it has been stopped. 
  4. Divert all paid staff-time previously dedicated to Home Office compliance to support for migrant students and staff – as information points, for administration of the hardship fund, or any other supportive purpose determined through consultation.

Ensure access to education:
If public education is to have a future, universities cannot attempt to cover crisis deficits with temporary bail-outs, and by squeezing greater revenues from rents and international student fees in the aftermath. Vice-Chancellors must make the argument for long-term public funding to ensure free education for all. In the immediate term, universities must not squeeze funds from precarious young migrants. Many universities choose to demand international fees from even long-term residents of the UK, while hostile environment policy denies them access to student finance. Many work zero-hour contracts, struggle to pay rent, and are paying the extortionate immigration fees alongside – plans to attend university are collapsing in the crisis. Those who do manage to attend will be driven into immense private debt. 

Universities must protect young migrants’ access to education – 

  1. Update university’s Access and Participation plan to ensure access for young migrants affected by the COVID-19 crisis, including the measures below. Publish updated statement on website.
  2. Classify young people en-route to settled status or citizenship as ‘home students’ for fee purposes. Some universities make this discretionary decision for individual cases; in present circumstances, it must be applied as an universal principle.
  3. Maintain any existing scholarships for refugees and asylum-seekers, and institute a scheme for applicants with ‘Limited Leave to Remain’ which waives tuition fees and covers maintenance costs in full. 
  4. Make the application process for support simple. Ensure that information is clearly available, both by publicising the schemes widely, putting detailed information on the university website, and providing a dedicated point of contact for clarificatory questions and assistance with administrative elements of the application.

References

[1] – National Union of Students, “Hostile Environment in Higher Education” in Liberty, A Guide to Hostile Environment.  2019

[2] – https://www.unisresistbordercontrols.org.uk/faq

[3] – Akaka, Zeno and Makinde, Dami Normality is a luxury: How “limited leave to remain” is blighting young lives. (London, Let Us Learn/Kids Law,  2019)

[4] – https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/nov/27/international-students-crossing-picket-lines-out-of-fear-of-losing-visas

[5] – https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/home-office-mistakenly-deported-thousands-foreign-students-cheating-language-tests-theresa-may-windrush-a8331906.html

[6] – https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/hostile-environment-british-universities-sajid-javid-boris-johnson-a9015191.html  

[7] – https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/may/01/indian-students-trapped-in-uk-by-coronavirus-actually-starving 

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