UCU Teach Out V

Unis Resist Border Controls workshop

  • This report is a part of the following series: UCU Teach Out.
  • This piece was written over a year ago. It may no longer accurately reflect my views now, or may be factually outdated.

The Hostile Environment Policy allows universities to get rid of migrant workers who might be troublemakers. Migrant students too, for that matter.

Unis Resist Border Controls speaker

The second workshop of the day featured a representative of the group Unis Resist Border Controls (URBC) and was concerned with the question of what we, as individuals within the university system, do to resist border controls.

The speaker began with a message of solidarity for the 120 migrant women currently participating in hunger strikes at the Yarls Wood Immigration Removal Center. She then introduced the URBC campaign, which had begun in March 2016, and detailed their manifesto, including points calling for a fundamental end to UKVI and PREVENT surveillance and for British students, lecturers and university workers to not collude or be complicit with the border controls culture on university campuses.

First, the Hostile Environment Policy (HEP) implemented during Prime Minister Theresa May’s authoritarian tenure as Home Secretary had to be understood. The policy referred to a raft of measures introduced with the express aim of creating a hostile environment within the UK for immigrants. May would routinely claim that the targets were the illegal immigrants, but the primary suffered in the years since have been the legal. When asked what the HEP entailed, one workshop participant replied that it meant sending vans around that say go home immigrants. I had somehow missed that story, and was amazed to find out that he wasn’t taking the piss.

The speaker continued to detail some other aims of the movement, which I thought were rather getting beyond the issue at hand, such as an end to fossil fuels and the arms trade, but I suppose that’s the nature of this sort of group. As we discussed the various manifestations of the HEP further, I became aware of my own, strange position as a UK–US dual national living outside of the US. Whilst the UK nationality had insulated me from the UK HEP, my US nationality and the demands placed upon me because of it are an example of the US attempting to create a hostile environment for me anywhere outside of the US. For example, thanks to the 2010 passage of FACTA and FBAR (thanks, Obama), Uncle Sam believes he has the right to tax my worldwide income in perpetuity, despite me have never lived in the US. FBAR means that UK banks have to provide the IRS with records of my finances so that they can verify I’m not holding out on them—the result is that many UK banks will refuse US citizens. It’s a rather surreal situation, to say the least.

We moved onto the question at hand: how does the HEP affect university? The answer was multi-factored. For one, attendance monitoring under the guise of pastoral care is used to report truant Tier 4 visa-holders to the Home Office for potential deportation. In Lancaster, this takes the rather Orwellian form of a mobile phone application that connects with Bluetooth beacons when close enough to register attendance at a given lecture theatre. In other universities this apparently goes further, up to biometric monitoring and electronic tags. International students are also required to register with the police upon enrolment, and god forbid they move house (as tends to happen each year of a degree) and forget to tell the police immediately. This surveillance regime was cited as a reason for the lack of international students on the UCU pickets—they simply couldn’t risk it.

The speaker then ran through a history of university collusion with the Home Office in enforcing the HEP. The immigration system that required this collusion, she added, predated May, beginning with the Blair government and culminating in 2009 with the introduction of the points-based immigration system. Universities were told that if they wanted a license to sponsor international students—which they surely did, as those students represent something of a cash cow—they would have to engage in profiling. The UCU did, for their part, try to deliver a fuck you to the Home Office. The response, according to the speaker, was one of well, fuck you back then. The universities needed the students, and so they complied.

The collusion of universities was highlighted during the 2009 cleaner strikes at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SoAS). The university called the cleaners, who were striking in the hopes of their services being brought in-house rather than remaining outsourced, to an early morning meeting. When they arrived, immigration officials conducted a raid and captured a handful of the primary instigators, include a woman who was four months pregnant. They were soon deported back to South America. One lecture theatre at SoAS is now known colloquially as the Lucas Lecture Theatre, after the pregnant organiser’s eventual son. This demonstrated the use of the HEP in removing dissenting voices.

Later on, Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) accreditation was added as an additional requirement from universities who wanted to take on international students. In 2012, London Metropolitan University was apparently found to have made an administrative error in its HTS paperwork. As a result, its status was revoked and international students were given just 60 days to enrol at other universities or face deportation. The speaker pointed out that London Met had a high proportion of minority students—if they had have checked at Oxford, she claimed, they wouldn’t have had their papers in order either, nobody did at that point. She also pointed out that this was shortly after the 2011 London riots. As many as 2,700 students had to find new institutions, and she estimated that perhaps 400–500 failed to do o and were duly deported.

She also pointed out that the Home Office makes a killing from all of this, charging £5.60 to send them an email inquiring about one’s visa request (cost not dependent on response). She also reinforced the classist aspects of the Immigration Acts 2014 and 2016, which disproportionately affect working-class international students. The gave the example of the Indonesian government, which supposedly failed to pay for a number of university study abroad scholarships at the last minute. The wealthy Indonesian students simply coughed up and graduated; the poor ones couldn’t, and didn’t.

We finished the workshop by forming up into groups and considering a true case with which URBC had consulted. We received that of a Nigerian student who was sofa-surfing—hidden homeless, in other words—due to being unable to rent accommodation during his Ph.D. as landlords required his passport or proof of study, and the former was with the Home Office for a visa extension whilst the university were dragging their heels with the latter. What came out of it, and the other case studies, was that there’s an awful lot of hoops to jump through and organisations to get fobbed off by. Whilst I have, as I said, my own nationality-related ballaches, I’m certainly appreciative of how much more terrible it is to try and make one’s way here in the UK without the passport.

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