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April 10, 2012

UKBA Bureaucracy and Legislative Vacuum

As I moved to UK to pursue a research degree last September, I decided to apply for a work permit on behalf of my full time student status. The main rule regarding work permits for students in UK states that one is allowed to work for 20 hours a week while in full time education. As it kind of made sense I decided to invest a full day of my time to solve this problem and win my right to work. The next 6 months proved me that I severely overestimated the UKBA and their perceptions on equal opportunities.

One reality, different perspectives

In UK, as in EU in general, there are two main categories of students: international students and EU students. Members of the first category need to apply for a visa to be able to study in the UK, and therefore together with the visa they are automatically granted the right to work for 20 hours a week. Members of the second category, the more privileged group of EU students, don’t need to apply for a working permit as they are allowed to work in another member state anyway. These two categories are completely disjunctive and cover everyone that studies in the UK. However, from the UKBA perspective, there is one more category, generically named “Romanians & Bulgarians”. One could argue that Romania and Bulgaria are part of the EU, which is technically true, but the UKBA considers they are not, even though they are member states for over 5 years already.

The amazingly bureaucratic process

So, one may be interested to find out how can a Romanian or Bulgarian get the working permit that is automatically granted for all the other full time students. First, one needs to fill in a 20-page paper form and send it for processing at the Romanian and Bulgarian Caseworking Team (even the name sounds a bit discriminatory). The processing time is around 6 months in most of the cases. Considering that most of the students that pursue a Master degree in UK study for 12 months only, having a 6 months processing time severely restricts their right to work.

Moreover, while the EU rules grant free medical care for people from other member states, and also for all the full time students, Romanian and Bulgarian students need to prove that they have a “comprehensive health insurance”. As there is no accepted definition for what comprehensive means, reports on different websites mention people being rejected for not having an insurance that covers dental care! On top of all this bureaucracy, everyone applying needs to send all the documents in original, including the passport and medical insurance. Therefore, during the 6 months of waiting time, one has no way to identify himself, travel to other country or even get sick.

It probably sounds like an impossible scenario, but as I’m just getting in the 6th month of waiting I can reassure you that this is how things work.

Is there a reason behind it?

It feels like all these complication are in place just to restrict a total number of 9,000 Romanian and Bulgarian students to work during their studies in the UK. Apart from the debatable ethical bit around this subject, I wonder if these highly skilled people wouldn’t actually help the struggling UK economy if allowed to work.


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