Speaking for Ourselves

My dreams were shattered due to Covid-19

My dreams were shattered due to Covid-19

Jillian Keith

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - My dreams were shattered due to Covid-19

Here I am, the sun lazily dipping beneath the treetops, absent-mindedly tracing the brim of my shimmering, sun-struck wineglass on my back porch. And as I’m sitting here with my right hand on my keyboard and a German Shepard excitedly panting to my left, I can’t help but think:

What on earth is going on?

And this isn’t just today. This is just like any other steamy summer evening in July breezing by on the other side of the Atlantic marking the 104th day of my social distancing journey. 

In 2017 all that I had on my mind was perfection. I graduated with excellent grades and was perfectly ready and content with spending the next four years wandering the pretentious ivy-covered walls of Cornell University. 

That was until an opportunity arose that I could not pass up: the opportunity to study in London. My dreams became consumed with cobblestone walls, colourful terraced houses, and new, undiscovered teashops to explore around every corner. I took this as a sign, put my previous plans aside, and enrolled at the University of Westminster to study journalism

In hindsight, a large part of me wishes that I had not changed my course.

The first two years were unbelievably amazing. I spent every minute accepting any opportunity that I could. Traveling to the 49 neighbouring European countries, networking with alumni and public speakers, and putting myself in the position to get among the best marks possible. 

My third year, I really buckled down. I went to every networking event possible. I contacted everyone I could. My connections grew to reach major organisations: Cosmopolitan, New York Times, The Independent, BBC. I was determined to not make this year my last, for you see, I fell in love. I fell in love with the cultures I was meeting in this giant city. I fell in love with navigating the tube. I fell in love with my flat, looking out onto Regent’s Park. I fell in love with everything possible: with the motivation and happiness that this city and its people gave me. 

Love causes people to do crazy things. Like, against all odds find a company willing to train you and sponsor your visa post-graduation. The stars aligned, my hard work paid off, and I was eager and fully prepared to slave over a computer designing for one of the biggest circulation newspapers in the UK. 

That was until my future plans and current path came crumbling down. Despite being a fan of the dramatics, this is not an over-exaggeration. 

On 13 March I was informed that my university was closing the following week. On 22 March my soon-to-be supervisor informed me that the programme was cancelled and not taking place until December at the earliest. I was also told that they would no longer be able to sponsor my visa. On 25 March I left the country out of fear of my country closing. It didn’t flight, but I was among the last “regular” flights to my city. That “regular” flight had nine passengers.

Covid-19 struck and with it took my final three months of university, my employment plans, a critical part of my final journalism project due to a lack of resources, and just about any chance of finding an entry-level job within the next three months. A person who was once so prepared and ahead of the curve was suddenly swept into a sea of uncertainty with little-to-no help. All I’m left with is a phoney congratulations letter which is supposedly coming in the mail.

I want to start off by saying that I love my university and I recognise that their hands are tied. They have no means of helping their international students out of the mess that has been created. The government on the other hand has every means of doing so.

Starting this year, students will have a two-year post-study period added to their visas. I genuinely don’t see any reason why this shouldn’t be added to the Covid classes of 2020 and 2021. Your previous reasonings are now completely outdated.

"Those who graduate and whose leave expires before the route is introduced will not be eligible for the Graduate route. The vast majority of these students will have commenced their course prior to the announcement of the new route, and therefore had no expectation of benefiting from such a route when they applied to study in the UK.

This route is being introduced to help new graduates who complete their education in the UK to get a head-start on their career and allow them to look for work as soon as they have successfully graduated. It is entirely appropriate that they should benefit from this route, rather than those with degrees previously gained in the UK who have already progressed in their career, whether in the UK or overseas."

This statement was painful to read in 2019, but it’s even more heart-breaking now. Yes, a lot of us did have a plan. That plan did not include being deported due to a global pandemic. Our “expectation” was never to have the final seven months of visas be unusable due to a virus killing hundreds of thousands of people, including your international students. We never signed up for this. To claim that we did would be incorrect and further prove your neglect and lack of compassion for our classes. 

You claimed that you wanted to increase the rate of international students remaining in your country after graduation, and here is your chance. Future international students may never apply due to the situation. They might not want or have the means to learn through a tiny screen.

But the classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022? We are here. And we want to work. We want to strengthen your economy and stimulate it. We want to keep our cultures present here. You don’t have to wait for something you don’t know will happen, when you have the solution right here, staring you in the face, and challenging your policies. Give the class of 2020 and current international students a visa extension. Even if it’s not for two years, and in return for the amount of time Covid has affected our studies and future plans, it will thoroughly benefit both parties.

Your stubbornness – not Covid – will be what ruins the future course of international students, and has been what has ruined all our future plans. Your unwillingness to aid students so willing to help you is what is wrecking our futures. You are choosing to treat us as though we don’t exist and claim that we had it in for ourselves by agreeing to a pandemic. And instead of simply reforming your policy, which would only take a mere paragraph on a sheet of paper, you are continuing to show how little you care about us.

This article was written and published as part of Migrant Voice's International Students Week (13-17 July 2020). We're celebrating international students in the UK and raising their voices on the issues that affect them. Read more here.


TOP IMAGE: Jillian Keith, provided by herself