"When I moved to the UK to study, I was not expecting the political situation to be so anti-working class. It makes me feel that I am not wanted here for anything apart from my money – neither for my work nor as a student," Kriti Singhal (name changed to protect identity), who is working part-time while completing her Master's at the London School of Economics, told The Quint.
Every year, the UK has the highest number of Indians (whether students or job-seekers) migrating to the country – more so than people from any other nation in the world.
The changing immigration law – like the fact that recently, the Rishi Sunak government announced that Master's students would not be allowed to bring in dependents from 2024 unless it is a research course – has made things uncertain for students in the UK, Kriti added.
Add to this the academic strikes, boycotts, and an increase in visa cost by 66 percent in June this year. Twelve days of strikes by university unions in March, and then in May, have impacted millions of students.
As an uncertain future awaits young Indians in the UK, The Quint speaks to students and job-seekers to get a complete picture of the problem.
The Graduate Visa Scheme
When the UK government launched its graduate visa scheme in 2021, it encouraged many to pursue a Master's degree in the country.
This visa gives graduates an opportunity – or basically a temporary work visa – to look for jobs and work in the UK for up to two years after completing their Master's.
There were 26,685 Indian students in UK higher education institutions in the year 2018-19. This changed after the launch of the Graduate Visa scheme. According to media reports, in the year 2021-22, 670,000 people came to the UK as international students – out of which 140,000 were Indians, as per a report by The Guardian.
But despite the UK being an attractive destination, Indian students are faced with uncertainty when it comes to finding employment.
So far, the UK government has not made any public announcements to address the concerns of international students. The Quint has reached out to the UK Home Ministry for a comment on the situation, and their response is awaited.
'If You Need Sponsorship…'
Owing to high fees and a dearth of scholarships, most Indians who move to the UK to study either come from an affluent background or through privileges that allow them to take loans to fund their education.
The Master's fee is usually up to to 30,000 pounds, with just over 6-5 general postgraduate scholarships available. Other scholarships depend on the university you apply to and are for students globally, with higher competition.
To get loans to study, students must show collaterals that are worth the amount being borrowed. Naturally, higher education is mostly dominated by particular classes and castes.
But finding a job is a whole other ballgame.
Despite the graduate visa scheme allowing them to work, most organisations – during their job application process – ask graduates if the person applying is on a tier 4 visa or would ever require sponsorship.
Tier 4 visa is the official name for the student visa that international students apply for to come and study in the UK.
Bhavya (name changed to protect identity), a Master's student pursuing development studies in London, told The Quint:
"This question itself impacts my application because there is no way it is going through if the answer is yes. Even when my resume was processed, the organisations rejected it because I stated that I would require sponsorship in the future."
'International Work Experience Has Little Value'
Many students who relocate to the UK are people with professional work experience because the UK education system encourages a Master's degree after gaining real-world exposure.
Speaking to The Quint, Sneha Mukherjee (name changed to protect identity), a student in London, said"
"Sustaining yourself during your coursework is incredibly challenging. Students are allowed to work part-time (20 hours/week), but most of the jobs that we are allowed to take are minimum-wage jobs, and it is almost impossible to find a job that is not in the hospitality sector. And is much harder to do a job in the hospitality industry if you are a person of colour."
Vaishnavi (name changed to protect identity), who is a Gender Studies student from SOAS University of London, said, "Something that does not happen to my white or white-passing co-workers, is the fact that customers in my workplace often talk about my nationality or where I am from."
"My other Indian co-workers have heard comments regarding their work, like "this is how you might have done it in India but you cannot do it here." People of colour are subject to higher scrutiny and invasive racialised experience compared to others," she added.
Sneha is a human rights lawyer from Delhi, with almost a decade of work experience. As a mid-career professional with a very specialised field, her options are limited, but there is something to be said of her professional experience that should matter internationally.
Sneha, however, said that there are fewer positions open for mid-level professionals.
A person with 10 years of work experience cannot start from ground zero. In fact, mid-level professionals are encouraged to apply, with many universities preferring people who have had a few years of work experience over fresh graduates.
"But there is a rejection of the work experience gained in India. India has its own set of human rights organisations and their work is rooted in the developing world, giving it a deeper nuance," said Kriti.
In other words, if International students are being chosen in large numbers and if there are 1.92 million people of Indian descent in England and Wales, the work culture has to adapt to Britain's shifting demographic. International work experience has to matter, Kriti added.
Lack of Freelancing Opportunities
Moreover, the student visa only allows part-time work and not freelancing, said Sneha. "That limits access to work for people like us. Not being allowed to freelance limits us from taking up simple consultancy work and leaves us with minimum-wage jobs."
Freelancing isn't permitted as it is considered as a form of running one's own business. But outside of tech and finance, freelancing is a way of survival, especially for people from developing countries.
This includes working in content creation as a consultant or working with organisations in a part-time capacity as writers, photographers, etc.
Impact of the Wage Strikes
As Indian students in the UK struggle to find jobs, there is another fear that looms large over them.
Different working segments within the UK, like the workers from National Health Service (NHS), transport, and other public bodies, including university staff and academics, have been striking for the past few years in pursuit of increasing their wage rates.
The recent marking boycott has impacted students as there has been a delay in the marking of submitted papers and examinations by academics. This is set to impact half a million graduations.
When there were ongoing strikes at the beginning of the year, there was so much anxiety around missed classes. Master's programmes – especially one-year-long degrees – have only seven months of classes. Due to strikes, many classes were cancelled and many students struggled with this.
Speaking to The Quint, Sneha said:
"We're losing classes, not being able to get guidance on assignments and comments on essays. But also, we pay so much to get a decent education and our faculties are not being paid even the minimum of what they deserve."
If the strikes would go on for weeks (the February-March planned strikes stood to impact four weeks' worth of classes; it was cancelled last minute after there was a talk of renegotiation), then students are essentially missing half their classes.
To understand this better in the Indian context, students are paying a minimum of Rs 24 lakh for tuition (if we are looking at the cost of courses in London) – and in financial terms, the loss is in lakhs for one student.
When International students apply for a visa, they have to pay the visa fees, which include an Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS). In fact, to negotiate with NHS workers, Sunak's government decided to increase the immigration health surcharge by 66 percent, from £624 to £1,035 per.
This is something that EU nationals, because of the pre-settlement scheme, do not have to give, according to Ritika. The pre-settlement scheme allows EU nationals who lived in the UK before Brexit to stay. They do not have to pay the IHS.
"Will organisations sponsor us after the increased visa charge?" is a question that has Kriti worried. Graduate Visas expire in two years, post which companies need to sponsor work visas. But if the charges of visas go up, there are concerns over whether companies would spend that much money for their sponsorship.
Moreover, only 2 percent of international students get jobs using the university career pages. Sneha adds that her university has not helped her find a job at all. "If students cannot depend on the university they study at, how else are they supposed to access professional networks and opportunities?" she asks.
(Varisha Tariq is a writer working with the intersectionality of culture, entertainment, op-eds and global politics with gender. She has been published in an anthropological book 'People called Lucknow' and in news outlets like Metro UK, Vogue, Refinery29, Stylist Magazine, Fodor, Missing Perspective, CH-VOID, Foyer Magazine, Your Story, Feminism In India and Hindustan Times. )