'Unfairly punished': Foreign students struggling to feed themselves as they are denied support during pandemic

Foreign students in the UK have been plunged into financial hardship as they struggle to pay their tuition fees during the coronavirus pandemic and are blocked from accessing state support, charities warn.

Dismissal from part-time jobs and a loss of financial support from family members abroad due to Covid-19 has left some students having to choose between eating meals or paying their course fees, which they are usually required to pay in order to remain in the UK.

This is exacerbated by the fact that most overseas students are blocked from accessing state support because of the no recourse to public funds (NRPF) policy, which prevents thousands of migrants from accessing help from the government due to their immigration status.

Ministers are being urged to take action to ensure that these individuals are able to access support, and are not suspended from their studies and forced to leave the UK as a result of not being able to pay their tuition fees, which vary between £10,000 and £38,000 a year.

More than 500 university students, lecturers, MPs, trade unions and migrant rights organisations have written to the home secretary Priti Patel calling on her suspend the NRPF policy for international students, in order to prevent many from becoming destitute during the coronavirus crisis.

In a second letter, addressed to the universities minister, Michelle Donelan, organisations demand a tuition fee amnesty for foreign students affected by the pandemic, warning that many were feeling “suicidal” because they were “terrified both of being removed from their courses, and of the serious immigration problems that would result”.

Research by campaign groups Migrants’ Rights Network and Unis Resist Border Controls, based on a survey of 124 students from overseas in June, indicates that more than half were destitute or at risk of becoming destitute, while three in four of those who previously had a part-time job had lost this employment as a result of the lockdown.

One student, from Singapore, who asked not to be named, told The Independent she had been forced to to start skipping meals and walking to work instead of taking public transport – despite suffering from chronic pain – when her part-time job as a beauty consultant in London started assigning her fewer hours due to the pandemic.

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