Hostile Environment Jeopardises UK Academia

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In recent years, the Home Office has been refusing visas – even visit visas – to overseas academics and researchers under what critics have dubbed a ‘racist’ hostile environment.

In yet another Home Office blunder, Asiya Islam of the University of Cambridge’s Sociology department was left in a state of shock upon receiving a letter of rejection in response to her application for indefinite leave. A resident of the UK for over a decade, her work at the London School of Economics and the University of Cambridge is respected by the academic community, yet not by the British Home Office.

This disappointing yet predictable turn of events has led to over 1,000 peers in academia writing to the Home Office in protest. It stresses that Islam’s case acts as “a foreboding signal” that “UK universities will continue to lose the talented PhD researchers that they have invested years in training.”

 Asiya Islam tells the Guardian that the UK’s hostile visa process ‘puts a dent in the reputation of the UK as a global academic leader.’ (Photograph: Anna Gordon/The Guardian)

“…the Home Office is signalling that global researchers are not welcome in the country”

Asiya Islam

Frustration is aimed at the Government continuing to perpetuate the ‘hostile environment’ both in culture and in law, despite the Conservatives claiming it is no longer in practice. Academics have voiced their credible concerns that this hassling and humiliating of international talent will leave the UK stagnant, forced to watch from the side-lines as international universities welcome overseas colleagues while harsh immigration laws reduce the UK to a place of irrelevance.

Head of Sociology at Cambridge, Professor Sarah Franklin, called the move an “outrageous breach of common sense.”

Islam is looking at being forced to leave Britain by the end of January 2020. The rejection claims she spent too much time outside of the UK during the period she states in her application. It ignores the fact Islam provided details regarding her overseas work as vital research. She is not the first academic to be targeted.

“By rejecting my and other academics’ applications for leave to remain on the basis of their days out of the country conducting crucial fieldwork, the Home Office is signalling that global researchers are not welcome in the country,” Islam said.

Adding insult to injury, the rejection response claims Islam will be able to “reintegrate into life and society in India … having only being [sic] in the UK for a short period” and would be able to keep in touch with those she has personal connections with int he UK via “modern means of communication.” As Islam states, she has been in the UK for almost her entire adult life. This is a horrifically simplistic take on what it means physically, financially and emotionally to be told to leave a country you have built your home, career and life in.

The Home Office maintains indefinite leave to remain is routinely denied for a Tier 4 Visa if the applicant has been out of the UK for more than 540 days in a 10 year time period.

If the Home Office stands by this and continues this cycle, it exposes itself as ignorant of how successful academia works. Without vital research – including international, cross-cultural research – we cannot build foundations of knowledge which go on to drive forward richer understandings of the world we live in. It’s something the UK Government has forgotten.

[Image of Cambridge found here].