My cheeks are always wet. I keep wiping the tears as they roll down my eyes every time I think of going back home as a loser. I get offended when my friend leaves after a coffee. I can barely sleep. I suffer from panic attacks and anxiety issues. I crib over things that were unimaginable for me. I distance myself from things that I love the most. I try hard to keep my eyes dry in the dark. I am always lost, trying to figure out the ways of getting a work permit here. And with every passing day, I dig deeper to find someplace where my mind can rest.
I was never this ‘busy’ before. I was always happy working on something or the other, ever since my early school days. But these days, I am busy finding something; some company who could be interested in hiring a Journalist with sponsorship. I had imagined working for a company in the UK, build up some savings in a currency that actually mattered, make my parents proud and eventually return to India. However, the mischievous plan, for some reason, was to get a foreign degree and a foreign job ‘so that your family could name-drop you and your company at weddings.’
I’m Aarzoo Snigdha. I am an Indian, I treat English as it is my first language, and I’ve been raised in a privileged, progressive home. I’ve been a part of the internet since I was a child, and as such, can pass easily for a global citizen. I moved to London to Loughborough University in 2016 at the age of 22. I’ve known I wanted to work in the media industry since I was 16 years old. At eighteen, I interned with national newspapers, at twenty-one I finished my Media degree from one of the best journalism colleges in Asia with a blessedly high GPA, I decided to get a Masters in Media because I am that privileged. Also, it seemed like the obvious thing to do.
Before coming to the UK, I knew the job market is tough, but I never knew that employers became cruel after Theresa May restricted and cancelled the post-study work visa programme and made it much harder for international students like me to stay on and work in the UK. In 2011 when Theresa May was elected as the Prime Minister, the nation applauded the victory of a female leader with a loud cheer and a belief that UK’s economy will boom and the country would be steered towards a progressive path. I am uncertain of the progress the country, where the reputed universities such as Oxford and Cambridge are dominated by 30% of Indian students, has made. What I certainly know is – the number of applications has reduced drastically since.
Well, the first semester of my MA was a blur. I was the kind of student who sailed through work at home, and yet, my first paper at Loughborough University received the lowest grade I’d ever encountered as a student. The style of academics was one that didn’t reward my particular flamboyance, so I adapted and did better. I had friends whose grades suffered as they weren’t fluent in speaking English. They had to become better too. It is, after all, an English-speaking market.
In the second semester, when it was time for us to apply for the jobs, I remember going to the student employment office and confidently rattling off what I’d hoped would be employable skills. I was a postgrad with a work experience. What skills? The lady at the employment office said, deadpan: “Skills are a different thing, you’ll have to find a job with a company that can sponsor you, or you’ll need to leave as soon as you graduate. Anything else?”
I was puzzled but kept reassuring myself that they can’t just say like that. What about people who chose England because of the opportunity to gain experience here? Either you get picked up by an MNC, or you go home. Most companies simply say on their recruitment pages: “If you don’t have the UK or EU passport, don’t apply.” I remember a pretty good phone interview with a recruitment officer ending with her saying, “Well that all seems lovely. And I assume you’ve got a right to work in the UK?”
“Ahhh, no. I’m Indian.”
They are ready to hire someone with the lesser skillset, zero work-experience, but not an immigrant who might be over-qualified for the job he is ready to do even for peanuts of a salary.
There are always questions that I ask myself the most: Why am I not good enough? I feel I have failed my parents and myself. I keep telling myself that I didn’t work hard enough or wasn’t smart enough. International migration for young graduates is not a God-given right. The job market in Europe hadn’t recovered. I don’t have any relevant skills. I know of friends who have been able to stay behind in the UK with MNCs, so it must be me.
Now, have big countries that accept international students cancelled their post-study work programmes in the wake of the global recession? Not necessarily. Germany — many of their courses are taught in English, totally free of charge even for international students — offers graduates 18 months of residence to look for jobs. Australia and Canada have similar programmes. The US has its 12-month OPT (Optional Practical Training) program. It’s not much, and it’s not easy to get hired full-time, but it’s something.
Yes, there are many students – Indian students – who come to the UK for fake English language courses and work illegally in restaurants and other un/semi-skilled jobs. I wasn’t going to work in a curry house, though I do make amazing curries. The more I think about the UK kicking me out, the more I’m left scratching my head. Is it policy? Or politics?
The market was tough.
In some ways, I understand the motivation behind May’s decision. It was a tough job market even for British and EU graduates, whose parents had been paying taxes into the welfare system for years and should have first right over jobs. The British government did not want phoney students to take unskilled jobs meant for unskilled British and EU labour. The British government must look out for its own citizens first. But my parents had paid three times the fees that British and EU students had paid. Theresa May certainly wasn’t worried about letting so-called “mediocre” international students in, as long as they could front the fees. She just didn’t want them sticking around, paying taxes and contributing to the economy.
It was a tough job market, but I’d have appreciated a fair shot. I don’t think Theresa May and the Home Office were targeting people like us. But they did, and here we are – the goodwill I had for Britain long gone. Maybe I’m really not good enough. Maybe the UK is thriving. I don’t know because I’m not a part of it. What I do know is that I will be telling every Indian high-school student who has the misfortune of coming to me for advice exactly what happened to me.
Maybe they’ll still choose the UK, and I wish them well. I just feel like Britain is shooting itself in the foot. Has “cracking down” on foreign students really boosted the government’s approval ratings among its people? I’m not sure. Has it boosted employment among UK and EU graduates? Again, I don’t know whether they are doing the jobs that non-UK/EU students would have done. Is Britain really full? Is every foreigner likely to be a fake student who works in curry houses and undercuts local labour markets? I don’t have much sympathy for them, and I understand why when an immigration officer sees an Indian passport, he/she is immediately fearing the worst. Surely, the real culprits are the business-owners who employ and exploit illegal migrant labour. Did the government think I would squander my parent’s life-savings to work in a curry house? My curry isn’t that good.
Any welfare state fears the poor immigrant, coming over to steal state benefits. But I am not one of them. I’m at Loughborough on a scholarship. There must be another way to screen in the “best and brightest” — if that really is the government’s intention.
I’ve noticed a trend – an unspoken understanding – among kids like me: getting out of India is easy. Any spoilt brat can do it. But staying out of India is hard. Those are the real winners. They beat the system. Maybe I’ll find myself in the UK again in the future when they deem me good enough. I’m not holding my breath. I wish everyone all the best.