While waits of up to six months were normal, delays have climbed as high as 18 months in recent months due to a processing backlog at UKBA. The National Union of Students (NUS) says it has seen a surge of complaints and that students are struggling to support themselves while studying.
“It affects your personal life and your social life. I’m afraid that it will also affect students’ futures”
Ruxandra Bucur, international students officer at the University of Bradford and a Romanian national, told The PIE News: “Students who are not able to work, not even in the university or to do an internship, are being forced to look for illegal ways to work.
“It is often in what people consider the worst jobs: as cleaners or in restaurant kitchens. It affects your personal life and your social life. I’m afraid it will also affect students’ futures.”
The delays also mean students cannot undertake paid internships as a part of their course (although unpaid placements and volunteering are allowed), which some say threatens the completion of their courses and job prospects. Work permit applications are also being refused because students’ documents have expired by the time UKBA processes them.
Ironically, affected students now have fewer part-time work rights than both non-EEA students – who are granted work rights as soon as their Tier 4 sponsorship is approved – and other EEA or Swiss nationals who face no restrictions.
“This has a detrimental impact on these students, essentially placing them in their own category where they have less rights,” Daniel Stevens, international students officer at the NUS, said.
The UK Council of International Student Affairs (UKCISA) said it exploring whether the situation breached European law. Duncan Lane, director of advice and training, explained: “When Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU, the effect of ‘EU standstill’ [the period in which the states have to wait for full access to the UK labour market] should have protected them from being any worse off than they would have been had their countries not joined the EU.”
“They should have been protected from being any worse off than they would have been had their countries not joined the EU”
The UKBA backlog has been linked to the surge in non-EEA Post Study Work applications submitted before the scheme closed in April 2012 (which left many non-EU students without their passports for months and unable to travel). A UKBA spokesperson told The PIE News staff had been redeployed to deal with the problem and that the situation would return to normal by “the end of the year”, however he would not comment on whether the delays for Romanians and Bulgarians were acceptable.
Bulgaria and Romania are both top ten EU student markets for the UK, however there are signs they are finding the UK too expensive. In a poll of 1,000 Bulgarians released last month, 14% said UK education had become too expensive because of the recent fees rise. Bucur said Romanians felt the same. “Britain is not the cheapest country you can live in. I think these delays will only discourage Romanians from studying here.”