Trade union work & building movements to fight the hostile environment: be like Birmingham UCU!

Unis Resist Border Controls (URBC)h would like to thank the University of Birmingham branch of UCU for their donation of £250 pounds to URBC. Donations like these help us to sustain our work organizing, campaigning and providing casework support for those facing the hostile environment.

We applaud the Anti-racism Working Group of the UCU branch at Birmingham for thinking to include donations to grassroots groups in their Anti-racist planningLike many trade unionists, we believe that the kind of change that all workers and students in Higher Education need to see extend beyond “bread and butter” trade union issues, and public sector workers cannot win without consider the entire context of the public, including those who are excluded from the services that they provide.

With this in mind, and following the example of UCU Birmingham, along with UCU Sussex, UCU Kent, UCU Sheffield Hallam, UCU Edinburgh, & UCU Bath we’d like to provide some further suggestions for how local UCU branches can support their migrant members and build a labour-community united front against the racist and xenophobic profit-seeking systems that impoverish us all:

  1. Pass motions or otherwise make branch-level commitments to fight the hostile environment at your university, in your local community, and beyond. Some things this work might involve or things that you might commit your branch to in any motions are the following:
  • Arrange for URBC to provide training on how to support migrant staff and students at your institution when they face problems with their migration status
  • Actively respond with information to calls from URBC to help gather information about how the hostile environment functions at your institution
  • Collaborate with migrant and other student activists to demand that your institution cut ties with industries that create migrant death and precarity. This includes the Home Office, along with many software, private security and military contractors that promote border regimes.
  1. If your branch has sufficient funds, make one-off or, even better, regular donations to Unis Resist Border Controls along with other grassroots and abolition campaigns seeking to end the hostile environment, no recourse to public funds, detention centres and prisons that URBC works in conjunction with. A complete list of groups can be found here:
  1. UCU casework officers – book a special training from URBC members on how to support the legal rights of your members. 

URBC is taking part in Migrant Members’ Conference on Thursday 3 December 2020 as part of the UCU Equality Conference. We look forward to reaching out to wider UCU networks about the work that we do.

#MichelleMocksStudents: Minister of State for Universities responds to URBC’s #TuitionFeeAmnestyNow for international students

On the 26th November 2020, after waiting over three months, Unis Resist Border Control (URBC) finally received a response from Michelle Donelan, Minster of State for Universities to our #TuitionFeeAmnestyNOW letter. URBC along with the Migrants’ Rights Network (MRN) sent a comprehensive letter on the 10th August 2020 that explained in detail why international students demand #TuitionFeeAmnestyNOW.

The URBC/MRN letter, signed by 530 students, university lecturers, UCU, Unison, IWW union representatives, along with anti-racist, and migrant rights organisations, indicated the following:

1. In a study conducted by URBC and MRN, of the international students who responded during the first national COVID-19 lockdown, 56% indicated that they are either destitute or at risk of destitution. In response, URBC offered financial assistance to international students due in part to inadequate support structures at their universities and because of no recourse to public funds (NRPF) which prevents Tier 4 student visa holders access to public funds like universal credit and housing benefits that could be used to prevent destitution.

2. Many international students were withdrawn from their university courses for being unable, during a global pandemic, to pay their tuition fees. URBC and MRN further explained that in many cases affected students cannot pay the remainder of their university tuition fees because their families are also in lockdown in their respective countries and unable to work and send them money. Because their universities are also their visa sponsors, being withdrawn would undoubtedly put Tier 4 students in jeopardy of becoming undocumented and at risk of deportation.

3. The findings of the URBC study on the hostile environment in UK higher education highlighted numerous cases of university lecturers and research staff indicating the particular exploitation that Tier 4 students experience within UK higher education that treat them as essentially “cash cows”. URBC & MRN further state:

” If UK universities continue to treat their Tier 4 students like revenue streams to exploit rather than students with aspirations and dreams, expect to see fewer Tier 4 and EU students enrolling in UK higher education institutions.”

For these reasons, URBC & MRN demanded that there be a #TuitionFeeAmnestyNOW to be imposed to prevent Tier 4 student visa holders from being withdrawn from their courses during the global pandemic and face further violence as a result of the hostile environment policy.

However, Michelle Donelan’s letter, not only misgendered founder and URBC member, Sanaz Raji, it also failed to address the substance of the joint URBC & MRN #TuitionFeeAmnestyNOW letter.

Donelan is, in effect, cruelly mocking the hardships of precarious international students, many of whom have been withdrawn from their studies, are left in penury, and now face visa curtailments and eventual deportation. This is why we must actively work to end marketised higher education and the hostile environment policy within UK universities.


1. Send this template letter to your MP demanding that they encourage Michelle Donelan, Minster of State for Universities to reconsider her decision not to grant a #TuitionFeeAmnestyNOW:

2. Join URBC on Thursday 3rd December for a Twitter storm from 11AM- 7PM @michelledonelan, #MichelleMocksStudents. Details here:

The IHS is unhealthy for everyone: the hostile environment as a threat to wellbeing in Higher Education and beyond

by Gwyneth Lonergan (Lancaster University) and Samuel Solomon (University of Sussex)

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Health Surcharge (IHS) has gotten a lot of media attention as the government agreed, after much public pressure, to waive the surcharge for migrant NHS staff and care workers. The surcharge is a levy applied to work, spousal, and student visas, and was introduced following the 2014 Immigration Act, ostensibly to defray the ‘cost’ of migrants on these visas to the NHS.  Initially set at £200/year [£150 for students], it was increased to £400/year in 2018, and will rise to £624 in October.   A person applying for a three- year Tier 2 (General) work visa will therefore pay £1,872 for the health surcharge alone.  Non-EU migrants therefore pay a very literal price to work and study in the UK.  A Tier 2 (General) visa costs a minimum of around £450/year, in addition to the health surcharge, and applying for “Indefinite Leave to Remain” costs a minimum of £2,389.

We at Unis Resist Border controls (URBC) welcome the news that the IHS will be waived for NHS staff and care workers, although we wonder how this will be implemented in practice (at the time of writing, it seems the answer is: unevenly at best).  Will an international student who gets a part-time job in their local hospital canteen get a partial refund on their IHS?  What about a person on a spousal visa who works in a care home? More importantly, though, we strongly believe that the system of visa fees and surcharges is grossly exploitative to migrants, and that the IHS should be eliminated completely. 

Unis Resist Border Controls (URBC) has long sought to understand how the Home Office’s “hostile environment” policies are implemented in higher education and how these policies shape other aspects of university life for migrant staff and students.  As part of this, we conducted an online survey in late 2018 asking staff and students at UK Universities about hostile environment policies at their institution. Our research illuminates how the visa fees system exploits migrants, and why piecemeal gestures by the government or employers to reduce the fees for certain groups of migrants are bound to fail.   

One of our survey questions asked respondents “Does your university compensate international staff members for fees/expenses?” We received answers from home and international (both EU and non-EU) students and staff, including both academic and non-academic staff members.  Strikingly, a significant number of respondents (57 total, or 36%) did not know the answer. That is, they did not know if their university covered international staff costs (visa fees and immigrant health surcharge). Of the 110 who did know, more than half (52%) said that their universities did not offer any help with costs at all, whilst just over a third (34%) said that their employer helped with some but not all costs. These numbers do not necessarily correspond to the percentages of universities that help with costs, but they tell us a lot about what information staff and students have, and they provide us with an insight into what we believe are widespread perceptions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, UK nationals tend to be entirely unaware of the costs that migrants to the UK, including Tier 2 “skilled” workers, face in visa and NHS fees. Moreover, for those who have not had to pay such fees themselves, the question of whether or not employers cover these costs doesn’t seem to occur. A logical consequence of this uneven distribution of the “need to know” is that non-EU staff and students often find themselves met with disbelief, if not disinterest, when they ask for solidarity from UK and EU nationals.

We saw this kind of ignorance and disbelief at work in the media debates around whether NHS workers should be expected to pay the IHS.  Shock was repeatedly expressed that NHS workers had to pay the IHS; but the fact is migrant NHS and care workers have been paying these fees since they were first introduced in 2015. Most people in the UK, including, it would seem, in the UK media, only became aware of these fees because of the global pandemic, and because the government decided to draw attention to the existence of the IHS by announcing the increase.  Furthermore, while we are pleased when any migrant is granted a reprieve from these fees, selecting a ‘special’ group of migrants to exempt suggests a broader lack of understanding of, or indifference to, how extortionate immigration-related fees promote severe inequality.  We know from our own research that visas fees cast a pall over the lives of university staff and students, constraining their opportunities and choices. One of our survey respondents, a lecturer employed at a wealthy Scottish research university, noted: “Some people save for a flat, I save for immigration.” Staff and students who support non-EU dependants are charged additional visa and health fees; many end up in significant debt as a result, or must make heart-wrenching decisions around whether to leave their partners and/or children behind in their countries of origin. No one, regardless of what sector they work in, should be forced into such situations.

The economic hardship created by extortionate visa fees is especially critical during the current global pandemic. It has been widely reported that BAME people have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 in the UK; Black men are more than 4.6 times more likely to die from Covid than white men. This is due to health inequalities caused by structural racism. Many BAME people in the UK are citizens here, and therefore may not be affected by the visa fee system (unless, of course, they have family and friends who are migrants). But for BAME migrants, high visa fees create an additional level of economic hardship while they are already struggling with the dire health consequences of structural racism. Moreover, the very existence of high visa fees, and the general indifference to their impact, is a product of the well-documented racism of the UK immigration system.

Both in, and outside, of Higher Education, we need non-migrants to see this picture clearly and then to stand alongside their migrant neighbours, colleagues, and students — but not only out of altruism. The IHS can be understood as a government strategy to further monetize migration even as, under austerity, the wealthy are paying less tax, and the state is disinvesting from public services. Given the prevalence of anti-migrant feeling and policies in the UK, migrants are particularly vulnerable to this. However, UK citizens would be well advised to consider whether they might be next. As Jackie Wang describes in her book Carceral Capitalism, “government bodies… have the power to generate revenue not only through taxation, but through the police power and court system as well.” UK and EU nationals may well find that they are increasingly hit with service fees, including to use the NHS, as the government seeks to balance the books without requiring wealthy Tory donors to pay their taxes – after all, the UK remains one of the few countries where companies that evade taxes can still apply for financial assistance to deal with the fall-out from COVID-19.

The overall picture here is of a harmful financial landscape for migrants in the UK, one that can have deleterious effects on their health and general wellbeing.   It is not enough to abolish the IHS for migrants seen as ‘skilled’ or valuable, whether they work in the NHS, or in higher education. As Unis Resist Border Controls, we call on all HE institutions, as well as the UCU and other unions active in HE, to lobby the government to end the hostile environment and the debt, distress, and illness that it causes so many of those who live, work, and study in the UK. It is not enough to ask for special dispensation for university academics: we join our comrades in Docs Not Cops in fighting to end the IHS and all upfront charges for healthcare in the NHS. 

Note: One of the authors’ employers (the University of Sussex) did cover his Tier 2 visa costs, IHS, and the cost of an application for Indefinite Leave to Remain. This somewhat unusual outcome was based on policy at School level, while there is as of yet no policy across the university to guarantee that this is applied equitably for all staff regardless of School or department finance levels.

URBC & MRN Campaign to End NRPF and Demand Tuition Fee Amnesty for Tier 4 Students

In July, Unis Resist Border Controls (URBC) with the help of Migrants’ Rights Network (MRN) launched two letters concerning the COVID-19 situation for Tier 4 international students. The two letters called for an end to no recourse to public funds (NRPF) and a tuition fee amnesty for Tier 4 students.

Both letter received over 500 signatures from university students, university lecturers, trade union representatives, and migrant rights organisations.

On Monday 10 August 2020, URBC and MRN sent both these letters to Home Secretary Priti Patel, Michelle Donelan, Minster of the State of Universities, Emma Hardy, Shadow Minister for Further Education and Universities, Universities UK and Vice Chancellors from universities were URBC provided over £6,000 in mutual aid financial grants to Tier 4 international students left destitute during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Also yesterday, URBC and MRN have launched findings from a preliminary study we did on the effects of the COVID-19 lockdown on Tier 4 international students. Our results found that 56% of Tier 4 international students indicate that as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown they are either destitute or at risk of being destitute.

For this reason, we are demanding an end to NRPF and a tuition fee amnesty for Tier 4 international students affected because of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Nadia Whittome, MP for Nottingham East has already come out in support with our campaign with MRN to end NRPF for Tier 4 students, stating:

“I want to express my solidarity for the affected Tier 4 students who are being unfairly punished due to their immigration status. At no time should this be happening, but it is particularly cruel during a global pandemic. I hope that the entire policy of No Recourse to Public Funds is reassessed in light of COVID-19”.

URBC and MRN have also received support online from Kate Osamor, MP for Edmonton and Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham to end NRPF for Tier 4 students.

Not only is URBC is demanding an end to NRPF for Tier 4 students and all other migrants, but also we send a second letter that received 530 signatures to Michelle Donelan, Minster of State for Universities, Emma Hardy, Shadow FE & Universities Minister, Universities UK, Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive, Office for Students, along with Vice Chancellors at BPP University, Coventry University, De Montfort University, Edinburgh Napier University, Glasgow Caledonian University, Kingston University, Northumbria University, Queen Mary University of London, University of Bedfordshire, University of Central Lancashire, University of East London, University of Edinburgh, University of Hertfordshire, University of Portsmouth, University of Sussex, and University of Ulster demanding a tuition fee amnesty for Tier 4 students affected by the COVID-19 lockdown.

In this joint letter with the MRN, we explained that Tier 4 students whom URBC are supporting have been told by their respective universities that if they do not pay the remainder of their tuition fees, they could be suspended from their studies. These students cannot pay the remainder of their university tuition fees for the same reason they cannot afford food: because their families have been in lockdown in their respective countries, unable to work and send them money. Since their universities are also their visa sponsors, being suspended would undoubtedly put Tier 4 students in jeopardy of becoming undocumented.

Since the COVID-19 lockdown began, URBC has shared information sent to us by Tier 4 international students who are being told that they will be withdrawn off their courses and face problems with the visa status for being unable to pay the remainder of their tuition fees their university. These screenshots of emails sent to Tier 4 international students who are unable to pay their tuition fees are just two examples of many that we have come across in the past four months.

An example of a threatening letter sent by Kingston University to a Tier 4 international student having problems paying their tuition fees as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Another example of a threatening letter sent by the University of Bedfordshire to a Tier 4 international student from India having problems paying their tuition fees as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown.

For this reason, URBC and MRN believe that we need to urge universities and government to institute a tuition fee amnesty at this critical time to ensure that no Tier 4 international student is suddenly forced off their course and into an immigration situation because they are unable to pay their tuition fees because of the current global pandemic.

Tweet sent yesterday to Michelle Donelan, Minister for the State of Universities with joint URBC-MRN letter demanding a tuition fee amnesty for Tier 4 international students affected by COVID-19 lockdown.

Watch this space to learn what response URBC receives from these these two letters and what will happen next with the campaign to end NRPF and a tuition fee amnesty for Tier 4 international students.

Sign two letters to stop the exploitation of Tier 4 students as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown! DEADLINE TO SIGN // TUESDAY 14 JULY 2020

In the beginning of May, Unis Resist Border Controls (URBC) launched a mutual aid fundraiser to support Tier 4 students impacted as a result of no recourse to public funds (NRPF). We have given up to £60 for grocery support and up to £150 for rent support to Tier 4 students left stranded because of NRPF.

NRPF came into effect under Labour with the passing of the Immigration and Asylum Act of 1999, which prevented international students, along with other migrants access to public funds if they are ‘subject to immigration control’.

Since May, URBC has given over £5,000 of funds to over 100 Tier 4 student affected because of NRPF. We have many more students on a wait-list subject to when funds are available. Some Tier 4 students have been struggling to feed themselves and are surviving on one meal a day, while others are spiralling into depression because of a lack of funds to sustain themselves. Many of these Tier 4 students are postgraduate students who came to the UK in January 2020 to start their courses.

However, not only Tier 4 students scrambling to survive during the UK Covid lockdown, but many are also receiving threatening letters from their universities demanding that if they do not pay the rest of their tuition fees that they will be suspended and forced off their courses.

Example of some of the many threatening letters send to a number of Tier 4 students who have contacted URBC during the COVID lockdown.

Tier 4 students are sponsored by their respective universities. Removing Tier 4 students off of their courses because they are unable to pay their tuition fees is a draconian measure that will put them in an immigration situation with the Home Office that could result in making them undocumented.

URBC believe that NRPF and threatening measures imposed by UK higher education institutions during the COVID lockdown have made more precarious the plight of Tier 4 students.

Working with the Migrants’ Rights Network (MRN), URBC believes that structural change is needed to stop the further exploitation of Tier 4 students at this critical moment.

For this reason, we have two letters that we urge supporters to sign before the deadline of Tuesday 14 July 2020.

1. End NRPF for Tier 4 Students:

2. Tuition Fee Amnesty for Tier 4 Students:

Both letters are addressed to the government and appropriate individuals within organisations and universities. URBC and MRN will be delivering both letters after the Tuesday 28 July 2020. Please share both letters within your student organisations, unions, grassroots groups and other platforms. Let’s ensure that Tier 4 students are not exploited, find themselves destitute or made undocumented as the COVID lockdown continues.

Visa monitoring and surveillance technologies: on the instrumentalisation of pastoral care in universities

By Caoimhe Mader-McGuinness

In 2018, a couple of weeks before the first semester was about to start, I received an obscure email asking me to attend a ‘timetabling presentation.’ As very little information was given about the nature of this unexpected session, and as it appeared to be targeted at people higher up in the chain of command (I have no power over timetable allocations), I decided to ignore this random summoning. I hadn’t yet noticed the small card reader installed across the classrooms in my department, and the purpose of this sudden email only became clear to me as I received a follow-up email in my inbox a couple of days later, as the PowerPoint from the session was forwarded to all teaching staff. 

What had been vaguely named ‘timetabling presentation’ was in fact a briefing to all staff about newly installed SEAtS technology, a means to record students’ attendance via a card ‘tap-in’ system separate from the traditional paper registers we had been using up until then. The installation of these readers was billed as a means to better support student engagement (the technology used also harvests data from student’s use of a variety of teaching and learning services such as the library or the Virtual Learning Environment), and as a means to enhance the supportive role the university could play under its duty of care. I spotted a small footnote at the bottom of one of the slides, which read: ‘This is a completely separate system to the Tier 4 Visa Monitoring system – Tier 4 students must continue to engage with instructions from International Office – possible that this will be integrated in 2019/20 but we would be very upfront about this.’ No update on this has been given as of yet, but the existence of this footnote in itself was enough to confirm what I had suspected. This new monitoring system was part of an increasing tendency by UK universities to deploy technological solutions that go above and beyond Home Office guidelines in order to comply with the demands of the Hostile Environment and the UK’s points based immigration system. The harmful implications of such initiatives are ignored or sugar-coated by institutions emphasising the possibility of enhanced  pastoral care and time saving properties offered by these systems, in order to get teaching staff on board. 

This was not my first encounter with either card reader technology in classrooms nor with the explicit argument that electronic monitoring of students needed to be carried out in order to provide better pastoral care in the face of an increased need for it. One of the first institutions I worked at also asked that we enter absentees onto an electronic register in order to communicate names of students who had three or more absences to our school’s dedicated student support officer, a position held by a lecturer who would then make contact with the student in order to check in with them and discuss their mental wellbeing. While I had no doubt of the designated academic’s goodwill towards students who seemed to be falling off the record, I already worried about where else all this information might be going and acted accordingly, even as I welcomed my school’s efforts to at least register that mental health was a growing problem in higher education. Indeed, there has been much talk lately of the mental health crisis facing universities with increased reports of student suicides and to a lesser extent, discussion of how mounting professional demands are taking their toll on staff. In this context, and as mental health awareness training becomes an increasingly compulsory part of staff development training (ironically alongside ubiquitous Prevent training, itself also presented as as safeguarding strategy), any initiative seen to mitigate and intervene in the crisis may appear at first to be a welcome step in the right direction. Yet the way in which many of these initiatives become intertwined with monitoring technologies and attendance tracking should worry teaching staff deeply, especially when reporting absences can have a much more extreme effect for one category of student, namely those students on tier-4 visas. Indeed, since New Labour’s 2008 introduction of a points based immigration system, non-EU/EEA students are at risk of losing their right to study and thus to remain in the UK should they be seen as failing to comply with vague attendance rules set out by the Home Office – so vague in fact each university has developed separate means to comply with the guidance.

Various members of Unis Resist Border Controls (URBC) have themselves witnessed this conflation between pastoral care and attendance monitoring in their own teaching across various British institutions, and this is also flagged up in URBC’s survey by comments made by a professor from Bristol, who also reports being told that the attendance monitoring he is asked to perform is linked to student welfare. Juxtaposed with the fact that close to half of our respondents did not know which department at their respective institutions actually processed attendance data and liaised with the Home Office, we can see a very worrying picture taking shape. This is especially the case as many participants also indicate the use of ‘attendance capture’ technology, a form of monitoring which can harvest data more complex than simple attendance registers.

SEATS infomercial on their visa monitoring system.

‘Attendance capture’ is part of an increasingly complex set of technologies used to monitor individual staff and students’ actions, such as lecture capture, Virtual Learning Environments engagement analytics with universities in the US also starting to deploy facial recognition technologies. Several lecturers in our survey report that students must use their student cards to ‘tap-in’ to lectures electronically and the main provider for this type of system, SEAtS, reports working with at least 18 UK HE providers. Moreover, such automated technologies mask, under the glossy veneer of algorithms, the fact that these monitoring practices are deeply racist. Predictive algorithms have been shown to entrench racist bias in policing, and it is worth noting that the deployment of this type of monitoring technology has been overwhelmingly piloted in post-1992 institutions which typically cater to larger numbers of BAME and working-class students. Moreover, these mechanisms have been reported to be prone to malfunctioning, as my own students report,  creating a further source of mental distress for already precarious students and staff, as non-compliance with ‘tap-in’ attendance rules can have possible consequences regarding student enrolment or access to finance, as outlined by the student loans company. 

These technologies have even more serious consequences for tier 4 and tier 2 visa holders. With such technologies, monitoring every move of students and staff marked out as ‘at risk’ of breaching regulations – increasingly through the use of predictive algorithms – becomes easy, as does sharing such data with the Home Office. As the government ties the use of such technologies to universities’ ability to charge high fees, the urgency of resisting these technologies is sharpened. At the same time, resistance to them is rendered more difficult, both through their increasing ubiquitousness and  because their use continues to be framed in terms of care and support rather than data collection and monitoring.

The final and terrible irony of mental health support discourse is the lack of resources actually available to students if they do indeed get identified and supported via the increased monitoring they are subjected to. A range of students have expressed to me their frustrations and struggles in attempting to access NHS mental health services, a situation made perhaps felt even more acutely by tier-4 students who have to pay a £300 a year surcharge to access any medical services. While of course many different students will suffer from ongoing mental distress, circumstances such as distance from family, large debts incurred to access UK Higher education and attendant anxieties around achieving well can heighten the risk of severe illness for tier-4 students in the context of an entirely marketized education . In this context, it is fair to say that the increasing conflation of care and monitoring is nothing short of a cynical exercise on the part of those who set up these contracts with these technology companies, making it abundantly clear that the professed concern for mental wellbeing expressed from university leaders across the country (and its supposed watchdog, the Office for Students), is but a hollow exercise, tokenistic at best and, as discussed in this article, racist at worst. 

Horrifyingly, the current COVID-19 crisis has truly exposed just how much the stated concerns for students and staff’s welfare have only ever been a veneer. University management across the country have behaved in ways which have put students and staff directly at risk, exploited students’ need for term-time housing and forced workers to risk infection through denying sick pay for self isolating individuals. About half of UK universities dragged their feet in cancelling face to face teaching, only feeling the pressure as their competitors announced shutdown measures, most notably Queen Mary which left the responsibility of taking this decision to individual heads of school and remained open for lectures until the 23 of March. 

Elsewhere, we saw kneejerk reactions at various Cambridge colleges where international students were instructed to vacate halls of residence as soon as possible as a measure to combat the spread of coronavirus, showing no consideration for practicalities such as the cost of airfaresand the potential lack of access to healthcare services in students’ countries of origin. Targetting foreign students specifically also shows an unnecessary and xenophobic singling out of students many whom are already financially exploited by the university. Universities across the country and their subcontracted residence managers are also refusing to cancel rent payments for students who have gone home and for students who have been stranded in the UK but lost their jobs, prompting calls for rent strikes nationwide. It is hard not to conclude that the fact the National Student Survey remains open has impacted these irresponsible decisions. NSS boosters ironically claim that this exercise ‘gives students a voice’ at the same  that individual universities brazenly and continually put them and their families, their lecturers and other university employees at risk of a potentially deadly infection. 

Meanwhile, library, cleaning and catering staff, as well as construction workers employed to build universities’ vanity projects remained on site for quite a while longer, and in many casesare still expected to travel to their workplaces. Goldsmiths Justice for Workers has highlighted that no pay has been offered to self-isolating workers and that despite being called ‘campus heroes’ cleaners have not been offered any extra financial initiative as management decided they were ‘key workers’ despite the government’s vague guidelines on the matter. Here again we see a mostly migrant and working class workforce treated as second class and disposable amidst a global pandemic. 

A picture emerges of a combination of dangerous decisions, disregard for workers’ health and specific targeting of foreign students – in a climate which also saw a huge increase in racist attacks against East Asian individuals, many of them students. This picture also shows the professed and oft repeated concern that employees and students wellbeing is at the heart of university policy for what it is: disregard, negligence and number crunching at the expense of physical safety. This should be a wake up call for all of us involved in universities to reject this empty rhetoric and attendant technological  initiatives supposedly implemented as welfare measures, as this crisis has even more acutely revealed how much universities are actually willing to protect their members. As we can see clearly now, not much at all.    

Help us change this state of affairs, and join Unis Resist Border Controls and others in fighting the Hostile Environment in all its manifestations. Firstly, please complete our survey which seeks to trace how technologies are being deployed in universities post-Covid:

If you are interested in joining our national campaign, drop us an email at

Finally, the current crisis has left many tier-4 students stranded in the UK with no access to public funds (NRPF), and in many cases no access to university hardship funds. Please donate to our crowdfunder so we can help them out in this emergency: 

New Update from the Home Office Concerning COVID-19 Guidelines for Tier 4 International Students

New updated COVID-19 Guidance for Tier 4 Students

On Friday 29th May 2020, the Home Office updated their guidelines for Tier 4 sponsors and students.

Home Office guidelines will once again be updated by the 31st July 2020. URBC suggests that you familiarise yourself with our FAQs that were done with Bindmans LLP, concerning your legal rights as Tier 4 students.

Home Office statements are italicised. We urge all students on Tier 4 visas to familiarise yourself with these new guidelines in order to protect yourself. Full document can be found here.

Student absences related to Covid-19

2.6 We will not take enforcement action against sponsors who continue to sponsor students who are absent from their studies due to Covid-19.

2.7 Sponsors do not need to report student absences related to Covid-19. This can include absences due to illness, their need to isolate or inability to travel due to travel restrictions.

2.8 Sponsors must maintain records of students who are absent for this reason.

2.9 Sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship if a student is unable to attend for more than 60 days due to Covid-19 but intends to resume their studies.

2.10 If a student has permanently withdrawn from their studies, or deferred their studies for reasons unrelated to Covid-19, sponsors must report this as usual.

Distance learning

2.11 Tier 4 sponsors can continue to sponsor existing Tier 4 students who are continuing their studies through distance learning, whether they are in the UK or another country.

2.12 Sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship for new students who have been issued a Tier 4 visa but are undertaking distance learning because they have been unable to travel to the UK, or are in the UK but have not yet been able to attend their studies in person due to Covid-19.

2.13 Where a student is continuing to study via distance learning, whether within the UK or abroad, sponsors do not need to report this as a change of student circumstances.

2.14 New international students who have not yet applied for a visa but want to start a course by distance learning do not require sponsorship under Tier 4. This is because they do not need to travel to the UK. Sponsors do not need to tell the Home Office when students have moved to distance learning. These arrangements will apply until 31 July, when they will be reviewed.

2.15 Students accessing courses below degree level via distance learning are not required to meet the 15 hours study per week to be considered full-time, if the sponsor is unable to provide sufficient tuition during this period. Sponsors should make efforts to provide the stipulated number of hours of teaching where possible.

Online monitoring is being used to record attendance monitoring of Tier 4 students

2.17: Where a student is studying by distance learning, where possible sponsors should use expected online contact points such as logging into online learning portals, attending virtual lectures and tutorials, and online submission of coursework to monitor attendance. We will not take action against sponsors who are unable to monitor online contact points due to practical or technical limitations. As stated in paragraph 2.4 – 2.8, sponsors are not required to withdraw sponsorship when students are absent from studies, including online studies, due to Covid-19. If a student has stopped attending their online studies for other reasons, the normal attendance monitoring policy applies to online learning.

Extending a Tier 4 visa

3.4 Students whose leave expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020, who would otherwise be unable to extend in country, will be able to exceptionally apply for further leave within the UK. This includes students studying at providers who would otherwise be required to apply from their home country for further leave, such as students at non Higher Education Providers with a track record of compliance.

3.5 To be granted further leave to complete an existing course, or to begin a new course students must still meet all other requirements of Tier 4, including academic progression (unless the concessions set out in paragraph 3.6 or 3.7 apply) and maintenance requirements. Students must normally allow no more than 28 days before their studies commence, but we will exercise discretion on this requirement if: • the student had to apply before 31 July because their current leave would expire on or before that date, and • the start date of the new course named on the CAS is no later than 1 October 2020.

3.6 Students who are unable to complete their course of study within the current 14 period of leave due to Covid-19 will be able to apply in country to complete that course. Students who need to repeat a year, retake a module, or resit an exam are exempt from demonstrating academic progression as would normally be the case for those applying in the UK. Further to this exemption, students who otherwise need more time to complete a course as a result of Covid-19 will be exempt from demonstrating academic progression, e.g. where a sponsor suspends studies for the duration of any social distancing measures.

3.7 Students whose leave expires between 24 January and 31 July and would normally be unable to demonstrate academic progression because their new course at the same level as the previous one, but who cannot travel overseas to make an application due to Covid-19, will be exempted from the academic progression requirement if the sponsor confirms on the CAS that the previous course and the new course in combination support the applicant’s genuine career aspirations. This concession will apply to courses with a start date before 01 October.

3.8 Students applying to study a new course can commence study at the institution from the date of the application. Students must obtain a valid ATAS certificate before they commence their studies, if one is required for their course of studies. The sponsor must end their sponsorship and teaching of the student if the Home Office ultimately refuses the application.

Registering with the Police

3.9 Tier 4 students who are required to register with the police as a condition of a grant of leave, or who need to notify the police of a change of circumstances, do not need to attend a police station during the period in which the Government advises people not to leave home unless it is essential to do so. This policy applies from 21 March while social distancing restrictions are in place. Such students must register with the police or update their information once social distancing measures are lifted.

3.10 Students who have already registered with the police and are making a new application in the UK should submit their Police Registration Certificate along with any other documents in support of their application as normal.

Again, we urge all students on Tier 4 visas to familiarise yourself with these new Home Office guidelines. Full document can be found here.

URBC New Study: COVID-19 Technology and Monitoring Survey

Today, Unis Resist Border Controls (URBC) will launch our COVID-19 Technology and Monitoring Survey. This survey is designed to better understand how technology and AI are being deployed to monitor visa compliance within and across universities, especially as teaching has moved online due to the global pandemic.

We hope this will offer us several case studies which will allow us to better resist the blanket deployment of such technology for surveillance, monitoring and performance management purposes. The issues are urgent, especially as many institutions have already indicated that online teaching is very likely to continue in September.

All responses will be entirely anonymous, and any published material will be redacted in line with GDPR compliance. Anonymised quotes may appear in the project report and/or publications. Data generated by the survey will be stored in encrypted documents on secure cloud storage for five years. Only the core research team will have access to the data. No data will be shared with third parties. The study will take between 20-25 minutes to complete.

This study has been co-endorsed by the following organisations: Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), Migrants In Culture, Migrants’ Right Network (MRN), & the Open Rights Group.

Click here to take you to the survey.

Information for migrant Tier 4 students affected by Covid-19

We understand that there is a lot of anxiety and uncertainty at present given the current Covid-19 pandemic, and UK based Tier 4 migrant students have concerns regarding their status. In an attempt to provide some guidance, solicitors at Bindmans LLP have worked with Unis Resist Border Control (URBC) to produced the following FAQs and resources to assist those impacted by the virus. The FAQs address both immigration and housing issues being faced by international students.

You will appreciate that the situation is rapidly evolving, as is the guidance being issued by the Home Office. This information is accurate as of 9am on 16 April 2020. We would strongly recommend that anyone reading this guide, also makes reference to the Home Office website for the most up to date guidance. The Home Office guidance or Tier 2, 4 and 5 sponsors can be accessed here

This document is for information only and is not intended to be immigration advice. 

Immigration FAQs:

If I have returned home, but am still enrolled and distance learning, will I have to reapply for my visa before my return to study in the UK?

No, so long as your visa remains valid. The Home Office has confirmed that students are able to continue their studies through distance learning, either in the UK or overseas. Therefore as long as you have not deferred or interrupted your study for a non-coronavirus reason, you will not lose the sponsorship provided by your institution. We would recommend that you maintain close contact with your Sponsor to ensure they are aware of your continued studies. 

I am a tier 4 student and am unable to return/travel to the UK due to travel restrictions? What will happen to my visa? 

Students are permitted to continue their studies through distance learning (see above), whether they are in the UK or another country. The Home Office has confirmed that Sponsors do not need to notify the Home Office when a student has moved to distance learning.

How has the Tier 4 reporting changed for sponsors in light of coronavirus?

Sponsors do not need to report:

  • student absences related to coronavirus. This can include absences due to illness, their need to isolate or inability to travel due to travel restrictions;
  • Students moving to distance learning. 

Sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship, if because of coronavirus, a student is unable to attend for more than 60 days. 

If I have officially interrupted my study and travelled away from the UK, will I have to reapply for my visa before my return to study in the UK?

According to the Home Office, if your interruption is coronavirus related then your institutions are not required to withdraw your sponsorship or report you. However, Home Office remains rather unclear in what is meant by coronavirus related and we would advise you consult with your university before making any decision to interrupt your studies, if possible. 

We are also seeking to campaign against any withdrawal of sponsorship in the current situation and allowing interrupting students to retain their tier-4 visa, to facilitate any caring responsibilities, maintain mental wellbeing as much as possible in the current context and easing the pressure to achieve academically in these extremely challenging times. 

I have been assigned a CAS but not yet applied for a visa. Can I still apply for a visa? 

You will still be able to apply for a visa. The start date for the course stated on the CAS may have changed. The Home Office has said that it may accept a CAS if it has become invalid because the student was unable to travel as a result of coronavirus. Applications will be considered on a case by case basis. It is also possible for new international students to start their course overseas by distance learning, which does not require a CAS/visa as the individual will not be entering the UK. 

I am sick/self-isolating/absent from my studies due to coronavirus. Will this affect my immigration status?

No. The Home Office has confirmed that the university does not need to report student absences related to coronavirus. They will not need to withdraw sponsorship if because of coronavirus you are unable to attend for more than 60 days.

I have finished my studies and was planning to leave the UK as my visa is expiring. I now cannot travel. What should I do?

It is possible to apply for an extension of stay in the UK if you are in the UK and your leave is due to expire between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020 and you cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to coronavirus (COVID-19). The Home Office will extend your leave to 31 May 2020 if you cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to coronavirus (COVID-19). You must update the Coronavirus Immigration Team by completing an online form

The Home Office has confirmed that, in certain circumstances, you may be able to apply for a long term visa from within the UK on an exceptional basis. This applies if the reason you need to leave the UK is to be able to apply to switch into a different immigration category. The Home Office has announced that up until the 31 May 2020, those visa applicants who must normally leave the UK  in order to apply for a long-term UK visa in a different category, will be able to apply from within the UK if they are unable to leave due to travel restrictions or self-isolation. You will still be expected to meet the requirements for leave in the category you are applying under.

I have applied for a Tier 4 visa but I have not yet had a decision on my application. Can I start my course? 

An individual can start their course or studies before a visa application has been decided if:

  • an individual’s sponsor is a Tier 4 sponsor
  • an individual have been given a confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS)
  • the individual submitted an application before their current visa expired and show evidence to their sponsor of this
  • the course they start is the same as the one listed on their CAS
  • the individual have a valid Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate if required

If an individual’s application is eventually refused the individual must stop their course or studies.

What are the rules on accessing NHS treatment, especially as the NHS surcharge is still in place?

Treatment and testing for coronavirus has been added to the list of conditions for which no charge will be implemented – even if the test comes back negative. No other changes have been made to the NHS surcharge rules, but a reminder that the services that you should always be able to access free of charge are:

  • accident and emergency (A&E) services (whether provided at an A&E department or similar e.g. urgent care centre, walk-in centre or minor injuries unit) but not including services provided after the overseas visitor is accepted as an inpatient or at a follow-up outpatient appointment. So, where emergency treatment is given after admission to the hospital, e.g. intensive care or coronary care, it is chargeable to a non-exempt overseas visitor. Note that some walk-in centres provide primary care services rather than A&E-type services and overseas visitors cannot be charged for such services either because primary care services are not within the scope of the regulations; 
  • family planning services, which means services that supply contraceptive products and devices to prevent pregnancy (termination of an established pregnancy is not a method of contraception or family planning); 
  • the diagnosis and treatment, including routine screening and routine vaccinations, of the conditions specified in Schedule 1 to the Charging Regulations which is necessary to protect the wider public health. This exemption from charge will apply to the diagnosis of the condition, even if the outcome is a negative result. It will also apply to any treatment provided for a suspected specified condition, up to the point that it is negatively diagnosed. It does not apply to any secondary illness that may be present even if treatment is necessary in order to successfully treat the condition;

Coronavirus treatment itself has been added to a list of other infectious diseases for which the treatment is always free, link here.

I have been contacting student services at my institution (international office, postgraduate office, student welfare etc.) but have not found them to be forthcoming, responsive, helpful or compassionate.

If you feel that your sponsor is not responding in an appropriate manner to your requests and/or not offering adequate support during the Covid-19 pandemic, please get in touch with Unis Resist Border Controls (URBC) immediately. We will do what we can to support you but are also gathering any information on university bodies failing in their duty of care. You can email URBC at:

Housing FAQs:

Do I have to leave my current home if my landlord tells me to?

This depends on the circumstances in which you live. 

The key question is whether your landlord has to obtain a court order before they can make you leave. The government has recently announced a freeze of all court possession proceedings for at least 90 days, and so your landlord will not be able to take steps to obtain a court order until at least 25 June 2020. 

If your landlord does not need a court order then unfortunately these changes do not apply.

Whether your landlord requires a court order will depend largely on whether you have exclusive possession of your living space.  If this is the case then you are considered a tenant and have much stronger protection from eviction. If you do not have exclusive possession then it is likely you are a licensee, and have much less protection. Further information about the distinction between a tenancy and licensee can be found on Shelter’s website here:

For practical purposes, almost all students will fall into one of three groups:

  1. Tenants (who have exclusive possession of the areas of a property in which they live).
  2. Students who live in university owned halls of residence.
  3. Lodgers or licensees (who do not have exclusive possession over their living space).

What is my situation if I am a tenant?

If you live in a rented flat or house, with or without other tenants, you are likely to have a tenancy.  You are also likely to have a tenancy if you live in a student hall of residence that is owned and run by a private housing provider.

If you are a tenant, your landlord cannot force you to leave your property without first getting a possession order from court.

The government has announced that no new possession claims can be issued until 25 June 2020 and that all existing possession claims have been suspended until the same date.  Other temporary changes have also been introduced to extend the length of notice that must be given by landlords to tenants before they begin taking steps to end a tenancy.

The effect of these changes is that tenants cannot currently be made to leave their homes by landlords.  If landlords attempt to evict tenants without a court order they are potentially committing an offence under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

What if I live in university halls of residence?

If you live in a hall of residence that is owned and maintained by the university at which you are studying then you are probably a licensee, but the Protection from Eviction Act is also likely to apply. 

Your landlord will therefore require a court order to force you to leave, and so the effect of the current suspension in possession proceedings is that you cannot be made to leave if you are not able to do so.

If you are in this situation and you are being put under pressure to leave when you cannot, then you should seek further legal advice.

What is my situation if I rent a room in somebody else’s house?

If you rent a room in somebody else’s house and you share facilities such as a bathroom or kitchen then you are likely to be a licensee.  Unfortunately, if this is the case then you have a lot less protection.

Your landlord must give you reasonable notice before asking you to leave the property, but they do not need to obtain a court order to do so.

Do I have to continue to pay my rent?


Unless you reach an agreement with your landlord, or you have brought your tenancy to an end, you should continue paying your rent regardless of whether you are actually present in the property.  You will almost certainly have a contractual obligation to do this under your tenancy agreement. If you do not pay then your landlord can recover the money from you as a debt, and will likely be able to keep your deposit as payment towards the money that you owe. 

If you owe money to your university then you may be prevented from graduating until any debts are settled.

Useful Resources

The Home Office has set up a Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre (CIH). The CIH can be contacted by email ( or telephone (0800 678 1767). Anyone concerned about their immigration status in light of coronavirus should contact the help centre. We would recommend emailing in the instance so that there is a record of your attempts to seek advice from the Home Office, should you need to rely on it in the future.

Home office information page for advice for UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents, last updated 14 April:

UKCISA information page on coronavirus last updated 17th April:–Advice/Studying–living-in-the-UK/Coronavirus-Covid-19-info-for-international-students

Contact Unis Resist Border Controls (URBC) if you are having any issues with your immigration status and/or if you are experiencing any problems at your university.

URBC Statement of Solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en Nation & Ways for University Staff & Students to Support the Struggle of Indigenous Peoples in Canada!

Wet’suwet’en Solidarity UK protest in London at the KKR&Co office on 20th February 2020. Imagine via Twitter @KelseyMxMo

Unis Resist Border Controls stands in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en nation, who are fighting to protect their and from destruction through Coastal GasLink’s 400 mile pipeline. As a group opposed to all borders, we recognise that so-called Canada is a colonial project built upon Indigenous genocide, which is an ongoing structure perpetuated, amongst other means, by oil and gas extraction on Indigenous land. We call for the Canadian government, and BC premier John Hogan to condemn and stop the ongoing attacks by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and to respect ‘Anuc niwh’it’en (Wet’suwet’en law) and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The land under attack has never been ceded to Canada, and the 1997 Delgamuukw v British Columbia Supreme Court ruling recognized the Wet’suwet’en’s right to their territory. The Unis’tot’en, a clan of the Wet’suwet’en nation, established a camp at the planned beginning of the pipeline in so-called Northern British Columbia in 2009, which has since served as a space of healing and resistance against colonial occupation, thus far preventing the largest fracking project in Canadian history from going forward. The Wet’suwet’en have stood strong in the face of violent paramilitary attacks by the RCMP, following an injunction letter by the colonial courts which has given CoastalGasLink the power to invade the territory. On February 6th 2020, the RCMP attacked yet again, this time brutally arresting twenty-eight people, including three Wet’suwet’en matriarchs. Resistance continues, led by Indigenous nations across Turtle Island and supported by their allies across the globe. 

The Canadian government presents itself as committed to Truth and Reconciliation, and BC law has recently aligned with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), article 10 of which states that ‘Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories’. But its actions blatantly reveal the settler colonial foundation of its liberal democracy. While Trudeau poses at climate marches, his government provides tax breaks to oil and gas extraction projects that destroy Indigenous land and life, and bring us all closer to climate apocalypse. 

As students and workers in English universities, we are deeply implicated in the settler colonial project, and hold responsibility for standing with Indigenous peoples in their struggles towards decolonisation. England is the heart of Empire; the development of early universities in the ‘New World’ displaced Indigenous peoples while settler elites were trained on the continent. Ever since, exploitation of knowledge and resources have been a central element of upholding the global hegemony of English universities. Further, our institutions directly fund research extraction projects such as the Coastal GasLink pipeline: Despite ongoing student-led protests, more than half of UK universities still invest in fossil fuel

We call on all to join us in standing with the Wet’suwet’en. Make a donation to the Unist’ot’en legal fund here: E-mail BC premier John Hogan to tell Canada and British Columbia to uphold Indigenous rights, and e-mail your MP to demand they pressure John Hogan. Other ways to support, and more information can be found here: