On 23 June, 2016, 52% Britons voted to leave the European Union. Between then and now, my news feed has been permanently cluttered with ‘Brexit’, ‘Theresa May’ and ‘referendum’.
My European friends mope about how hard things will be and I smirk. An Italian ex-colleague posts on LinkedIn about how easy the Home Office made it for him to achieve ‘settled’ status and I seethe. All he had to do was fill in a form and apply using an Android phone, all for a nominal fee of £65. Yet I had to pay £3,000 to get my temporary work visa and still the spectre of uncertainty looms over the heads of me and people like me.
You see, unlike a European who could waltz into the UK without any financial investment or sometimes even the knowledge of English, people from the Commonwealth mainly choose the route of education and a mandatory English test to come here.
International students pay more in tuition fees and are limited to working only 20 hours a week. If we are rich, our family supports us. If we are not so rich, our incomes can barely cover our rent, and our family might help support us but it weighs on our conscience.
Naturally, we want to stay back after studies and find employment. Until 2012, students on a Tier 4 visa were given a full year after graduating to apply for another course or find a job. That provision no longer exists and we have 3-4 months to either find a job or get out of the country.
Employment is not as easy as sending an application, nailing the interview and getting the offer letter. There is a 2,000-page long list of companies that offer visa sponsorship. There are a lot of jobs out there for doctors, nurses, or IT professionals but options are restricted if we come from other disciplines. We want to work with the best media and publishing firms but they won’t hire us if we don’t have the right to work in the UK.
If we do manage to find a job in the eleventh hour – often something on a separate tangent from what we have studied or our larger career goals – we begin the arduous process of applying for a three- or five-year work visa, spending anywhere between £1,500 to £3,000 on the application. Then we wait, hoping that the Home Office will approve our application.
One fine day, we will be visited by immigration officers. They will interrogate us on our work, take copious notes and ask for samples to prove that we are indeed doing the job we’ve been hired to do. No one gives a damn about our illustrious educational background and command over English. If they are suspicious, the company’s sponsorship license gets suspended, followed by months of inquiry. We cannot travel during this period, because our visa is redundant. There are only two outcomes: either our visa is reinstated or the company’s license is revoked and we are unemployed. Eventually, the Home Office deigns to confer their approval. Business goes on as usual.
My European colleagues are always broke and complaining about the job. Well, find a new one – it shouldn’t be hard for you guys compared to people like me, whatever your work ethic and skills (or lack thereof). For non-EU migrants like me, even quitting comes with clauses. If we leave a job, we have sixty days to find a new sponsor or leave. During those sixty days of unemployment, we can, again, only work for 20 hours per week, and in the same field as our current job. The new job should be similar to the one we were doing previously. I forget the point at which this turned into a farce.
We are tied to a sponsor – not unlike bonded labour – until we don’t get ‘permanent resident’ status. After five years of toiling on sponsorship, some get residency and are free to look for any kind of employment, some don’t get it but some quit midway.
Me? It’s been two years so far. In that time I’ve questioned my patriotism and self-worth, and often thought ‘why am I doing this’. Paying tax to a country that is looking for reasons to oust me? As an Indian, I am reminded of my country’s bloody colonial history with Britain. A two-hundred year long rule and several inequities later, I am still running from pillar to post to find a job, to make some money, just to have a choice.
When my Italian, French, German, Spanish or Portuguese friends ruminate on their uncertain futures in the UK, I roll my eyes. You see, guys, what you are experiencing now is what we wake up with and go to bed with every day.