These are the minutes from the Students Not Suspects teach-in, 18 March
Frances Webber (Institute for Race Relations)
We have to see Points Based Immigration in terms of the wider context of
the outsourcing of immigration functions: the plethora of organisations
involved in housing provision, the NHS, where access to health care became
contingent upon immigration status, or making employers responsible for
ensuring that employees are legally entitled to work, as well as the
outsourcing of visa processing to private companies such as Worldbridge.
There is also the universalising of immigration policing. On the Home
Office website, international students are described as ‘migrants’.
For an education provider to bring in non-EEA students, they have to get a
licence, which means they must show they’re not a threat to the system of
immigration control and meet sponsorship duties. In the future, we will
see the use of an electronic monitoring system to police student
attendance. The rules mean that the course must be acceptable to UKBA, and
must not be too of a level; the level of the student must be at least at
B2. There are also expectations for record-keeping, reporting and
compliance; if the student misses 10 expected contacts or there is
evidence that they are breaching conditions, then the college stops
sponsoring them. UKBA staff can be allowed onto the premises at any time.
If it turned out that the college was employing people without the right
to work, then they have to pay £10,000. However, there are no such
consequences for people who refuse to comply with student monitoring. The
worst that could happen is that the license was withdrawn; however this
can be countered by a critical mass of institutions that publicly oppose
the rules. There are different categories of sponsorship licences: the A
licence is a ‘highly trusted sponsor’ licence; if the sponsor isn’t up to
scratch, it’s downgraded to a B licence, which requires them to go through
a ‘re-education program’, and if there is no improvement they can be
struck off the list. UKBA is making vast sums of money off sponsorship
Valerie Hartwich (Manifesto Club)
As part of our research, I interviewed a representative of Universities
UK. They are concerned that applicants would look at the sponsor licensing
categories and see it as a rating system (similar to league tables). The
problem with the whole system is that it’s a one-size-fits-all way of
working; it’s fuzzy because nobody can grasp the actual phenomenon. This
can also make it easy to diffuse criticism and opposition.
There is an issue of accountability. These systems are supposed to be
working for you, but when they involve non-UK citizens or residents then
the accountability disappears. The ability to bring people into this
country remains a state affair, but many of the failures have been
outsourced. The people who have set up this system don’t actually know how
it works. A lot of people people aren’t sensitive to the issues because it
does affect them directly. There are forms of financial discrimination:
many people don’t get their visas the first time, so have to spend money
on reapplying; you need to pass on your bank details to regional centres
(which could be located very far away, in some cases in a different
country). It’s costly to register to be a licensed sponsor, particularly
for small organisations. We don’t just want big universities or arts
organisations to bring in foreign nationals. Points Based Immigration
plays on fear and suspicion and uses scare tactics. We need to show what
we want, and that we won’t stand for this idea of suspicion.
Phil Booth (No2ID)
No2ID is opposed to the database state and ID cards. When the UK Borders
Act was introduced in 2007, non-EEA students and staff extending visas
were required to submit fingerprints and get ID cards. This biometric
information can be cross-referenced and searched against police databases
– and this is where the term ‘students not suspects’ is very apt, as
Points Based Immigration is a suspect generation tool that undermines the
presumption of innocence. The process is not transparent and is heavily
loaded against applicants.
It’s also prone to arbitrary problems. When you run someone’s fingerprints
against someone else’s fingerprints, things can go wrong and get a false
positive. This is done without our knowledge and can lead to rejected
applications, or the applicant having to prove that they’re not the person
the system says they are. There are problems with the handling of
biometric data, as it’s being shuffled around the world and processed in
different countries. What happens if there are people from corrupt regimes
manipulating the data?
In terms of what you can do, noncompliance is important in stopping
lecturers and administrators from being turned into immigration officers.
The government is sending out the message that you can’t trust anyone, but
that you should still trust the immigration rules. When the US tightened
their visa regimes the applications dropped off. International students
contribute a great deal to higher education, so it’s in everyone’s
interests to resist Points Based Immigration.
Startx (No Borders)
No Borders is based around the claim for the right for everyone to
migrate. We will discuss the political context of the immigration system.
In 2005, New Labour introduced the proposal for Points Based Immigration,
entitled ‘Making Migration Work for Britain’ (which should have been
‘Making Migrants Work for Britain’). It was developed with the TUC and
representatives from industry. There were two major aspects: first, the
outsourcing of immigration to sponsors (employers, university management,
etc); and second, the tightening of the rules and the removal of almost
all chances to appeal against UKBA decisions. Immigration is now
primarily a private relationship between the visa applicant and the
The official propaganda is that we need migrants to fill the gaps in the
UK labour market. For example, Charles Clarke said that we need the ‘best
and the brightest’ and that we also need to ‘safeguard against abuse’.
Migrants and the knowledge and skills they bring are seen as human
resources for the economy. Points Based Immigration was introduced within
the framework of managed migration – as though immigration was a business
people were being managed for the sake of a company. People’s rights can
change depending on how how the economy changes.
We need to ask why this approach is going through so smoothly, with so
little opposition. This may because the Labour government, and other
social democratic governments in Europe have bought into a neoliberal
definition of national identity; for example, the former Chancellor in
Germany, Gerhard Schroeder said that we need a ‘Germany, Inc.’. National
identity is now primarily economic rather than cultural, and politics has
become reduced to management, which is scary – and so there’s an urgent
need to shift the debate. If we campaign against the immigration laws, we
have to be careful in claiming what is good for Britain: that the only
people who can come to the UK are those who benefit the economy, which
denies the autonomy of migrants.
We need to remember that the whole setup was not designed by UKBA; various
institutions came up with it. The ten instances, for example, were
designed by someone else. I was at a meeting with PCS (who represent UKBA
staff), and they said the idea of an institution losing its licence
because of noncompliance is highly unlikely.
Racism is at the heart of all this. When visa applications from
Bangladesh, Northern Indian and Nepal were suspended, this was about
targeting people with brown skin.
In the past it was easier for people from English speaking countries to
come to the UK but now it's not; the rules are about giving priority to
The principle of presumed innocence (until proven guilty) has disappeared
from the justice system; PBI is an extension of this.
Since 2000, UKBA has been subject to the Race Relations Act and laws on
discrimination. Could this be used?
We need to shift public opinion on immigration.
What they are doing with the ID cards to foreign students, they would like
to do to European students. Everything they are doing to them, they would
like to do to us.
With PBI, you get points taken off for anti-government activities. Phil
Woolas said that ‘we want a higher expectation for people who want to be
British’, and this illustrates this.
Control orders have only ever been applied to foreigners or British
citizens of Asian origins.
Les Back – University of Excellence
Apologies from Sandy Nicoll (SOAS Justice for Cleaners)
Les Back (Sociology, Goldsmiths)
In his book ‘The University in Ruins’, Bill Readings talked about the
concept of the ‘University of Excellence’. Universities are moving away
from being cultural centres, and towards being centres of ‘excellence’,
which are almost contentless. The university is profoundly globalised, and
has become dependent on the recruitment from overseas students to solve
their financial problems. They have also become both the subject and
object of immigration control. Applicants for student visas must now prove
they have one year’s full course fees plus one year’s living costs in the
bank, plus £525 per child; this is more than the dean or a professor of
Sociology might have. Universities are required to pass on attendance
information. This leads to the erosion of trust, the promotion of fear and
the criminalisation of students. How does this connect to the question of
racism? This is not the kind of racism we’re used to struggling against.
This is a racism that can assimilate difference.
I’ll currently working on a research project about students from migrant
backgrounds. As part of this, they have written scrapbooks. One of them, a
student from the Dominican Republic, wrote a poem about being confronted
at the border agency. There is an echo from Frantz Fanon in terms of how
people are being positioned
Habib Rahman (Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants)
JCWI came out of 1960s anti-racism movements. PBI is about controlling
migration from overseas countries; it’s also a money making machine. We
also have a situation where the government seems to do what ever they
like and people suffer. To respond to the question of how do we shift
public opinion, we have to make the argument that immigration is good for
society. We need simple messaging, and our I Heart Immigration campaign is
meeting tomorrow, and will be bringing out a
guide on PBI which will give ideas on how to challenge certain parts of laws.
we can't trust the government on what kinds of migrants come in and which
ones don't .
The problem is that there are some dominant scripts in the media: first,
that immigrants are a drain on resources and are in the country to scam
the system, jump the queue for council housing, etc. The second is that
overseas students are spoiled rich brats, and are agents of neoliberalism
and the marketisation of education. This will make it difficult to get
public sympathy for our campaign. It’s also not just the Daily Mail; there
was a recent article in the Guardian by Polly Toynbee which characterised
immigration as a ‘problem’.
We can’t just react; we need to have positive messages.
We could learn from the example of the ‘day without immigrants’ in France
There are attitudes in Black and Asian communities against new migrants
(perhaps an example of how this is a new form of racism).
PBI works on a logic of fear: the immigrant is some unknown shifty person,
rather than a decent person who is trying to make their life in this
PBI also plays on a sense of losing a community, and not knowing who your
neighbours are anymore.
We need to look at the bureaucratic structure of university admissions;
students need to lobby universities for better support.