Coronavirus: call for reform of immigration

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There is rising demand for urgent immigration reform amid fears that many EU students studying at Scottish universities will face hundreds of pounds of extra costs as a result of the Covid pandemic.

Campaigners also cautioned that first-year students would not be eligible for pre-settled status if they arrive on December 31 after the completion of the transition period – even if, owing to Covid 19 limitations, they choose to study online or could not travel to the UK.

This will mean that when they come here in 2021 to begin their studies, they would have to apply for a student visa, which would hit them with application costs of £ 348 and £ 470 in health fees a year.

Mantas Gudelis, who began a degree in biochemistry at the University of Edinburgh in September and is studying at home in Lithuania, told the Guardian earlier, “The health surcharge over four years is £2,000 and for my family that’s a lot of money…. The system should allow us to come because this is not our fault.”

Students at university begin their semester from home

The Scottish government has now written to Kevin Foster, the Minister of Borders and Immigration of the United Kingdom, asking that the rules be updated so that when applying for the Settlement Scheme, all EU students who enrolled in a Scottish higher education institution in the 2020-21 academic year but were unable to travel because of Covid would be considered eligible to remain.

If they join after December 31, this will be the case as well.

The letter was written by former Minister of Migration Ben Macpherson, who was named in a recent reshuffle as Minister of Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, followed by Jenny Gilruth, Minister of Europe.

It says: “The pandemic has given many universities and colleges the opportunity for students to study from home. This option has been taken advantage of by a significant number of EU students, probably because they do not want to travel or because they are not allowed to leave their country of origin.”

“As a result, some students who were due to arrive in the UK in 2020 to start their studies will not arrive until 2021 and so will not be compliant with the EU Settlement Scheme because they will not be living here until the end of 2020,” he said.

“That means they’re going to have to apply for a student visa…. Students in this role will face expenses of £ 348 for visa applications and an annual health fee of £ 470.

“The letter continues, “I am aware of a range of instances where the Home Office has told students at Scottish universities, but currently studying abroad, that if they wish to come to the UK from 2021, they will face the above costs.

Therefore, I am writing to ask you to amend the immigration rules. All EU students who enrolled in the 2020-21 academic year at a Scottish higher education institution but were unable to move here due to Covid restrictions should be deemed to have complied with the EU Settlement Scheme when they apply, even if they arrive here after 31 December 2020.’

Support for the letter came from university administrators.

Student returns threaten a new wave of infections

A spokesman for Universities Scotland said, “We support the Scottish government’s request,”

“The higher costs are another barrier for EU students to come and study in Scotland. We hope the U.K. government will recognize the exceptional circumstances many EU students find themselves in and make an exception.”

“We have already called for an extension of the eligibility criteria for the EU Settlement Scheme until the end of the next academic year. The UK government needs to make this happen – and urgently.” said Matt Crilly, President of NUS Scotland. This needs to be done – and urgently – by the UK government.

We were explicit that students… must be resident in the U.K. by Dec. 31, 2020, to have rights under the Citizenship Agreement, a Home Office spokeswoman said.

“The government has made extensive efforts to ensure that students from the EEA (European Economic Area) and Switzerland understand the steps they need to take to secure their right to remain in the UK, and we are proud that there have already been 4.2 million applications to the EU Settlement Scheme.”

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