What makes international students break visa laws?

17th February 2020

Fear of losing their job, constant sense of obligation, or the lure of earning a few extra pennies is leading to overseas students in Leeds putting their Tier 4 visas at risk.

“It’s easy money here. My mum is a PhD and she is working as the head of a department at a college. I have realised that if I work overtime, I can reach her salary,” says Abhimanyu Chopra, 24, pursuing a master’s degree in Leeds.

The Home Office only allows international students to work a maximum of 20 hours during term-time, in order to maintain what is called a Tier 4 visa.

Flouting these conditions by working too many hours or taking on jobs with an undeclared income can lead to visas being revoked, deportation, or even a ban on entering the country again.

I have had friends who have had five simultaneous jobs… it left them with just two hours of sleep in a day. 

With such serious consequences lingering over an international student’s head, why are so many willing to play dice with their education for a side hustle? 

“I think it’s about the availability of opportunities and how vulnerable we are,” says Chopra, who has spent four years in Leeds, undertaking several part-time jobs, however resisting working extra hours. 

He added: “I have had friends who have had five simultaneous jobs, working hours more than what the Tier 4 visa permitted them. It left them with just two hours of sleep in a day. 

“They earned [£25,000] in a span of six months. They went to an extent where they got caught and were in detention.”

For students who strive to balance their social, educational and personal needs, the appeal of extra pounds is strong; and employers use this to their advantage and grant them a greater number of work hours than is permitted. 

To stay off the radar of the immigration authorities, they sometimes pay the students in cash. 

Emilia Ida, a 23-year-old exchange student from Germany, studying in Leeds, was paid in cash in her previous job and was made to work extra hours. 

“Most of these casual jobs pay in cash. Now, I’m only paid on my bank account because the restaurant is owned by a big corporation and nothing can be off the books so easily,” she said. 

Because we’re earning minimum wage, we’re being talked down upon, treated a bit like halfwits

Ida has taken up several part-time jobs in Leeds during the course of her study and she is of the opinion that students, irrespective of their nationality, are ill-treated at their workplace.

She said: “My manager is a student and is forced to work around 25 hours because some employers don’t have manners and I would say that is true for my workplace. 

“We’re all studying to be managers, teachers, doctors, I think we have something to us. But because we’re earning minimum wage, we’re being talked down upon, treated a bit like halfwits and no matter how much motivation and self-drive we started with it’s all gone by now.” 

In the 2017-18 academic year, there were 468,385 international students studying higher education in the UK. England alone attracted 377,140 international students. 

While there’s no doubt that students forsake the comfort of their homes to take on educational pursuits abroad for better employment opportunities and the flamboyance of a foreign country, budgetary pressures leave students vulnerable to violating laws.

A survey revealed that the average living costs for a student in the UK are just over £800 each month. This is slightly higher for international students who spend approximately £816 a month. Two-thirds of students cover their expenses with part-time jobs.

Krupa Rao, 24, a former master’s student in Leeds, has had seven or eight part-time jobs during her stay in the UK. 

She says that while the majority of international students take on additional work to boost their income, utilise time productively and pay off rents, sometimes it’s all about making more money to party.

While Rao didn’t flout the laws, there are plenty students who have. Students are only able to avail this risky route because there’s an option for it. There are many businesses and employers who provide students with the option of working more hours than allowed by the law. 

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Leeds-based retailer admitted that it has, in the past, allowed international students to flout Tier 4 visa regulations by paying them cash-in-hand. Paying these students less than the national minimum wage. 

The manager said: “Students are in need of cash and they often come with the hope that they can make quick money when they don’t have classes.

“They are all from different countries and have education loans to pay off. Some even work for a couple of weeks, make money for immediate needs and then don’t come back.

It’s really not worth risking

Clare Newton, student immigration advice and compliance officer at Leeds Beckett University, warned students against working any job that exploits the law. 

She said: “Depending on what it states on the Biometric Residence Permit, up to 20 hours per week is what an international student is allowed to work.  

“If the Home Office finds that they are working more than that it can result in visas being withheld. 

“It can also result in a civil penalty. It can have an implication on their immigration status. It’s really not worth risking.”

Whether it is a cynical means of making more money or a desperate cry to cover student expenses, stringent regulation of an overseas student’s life has created a marketplace for exploitation. 

17th February 2020