International students at University of Manchester facing “degrading” in-person visa checks
International students at the University of Manchester are facing “degrading” in-person visa checks and “differential monitoring” compared to home students.
The university has been forced to introduce a new temporary monitoring system after a “malicious cyber incident” earlier this year which made its previous system inoperable.
The system requires students on Tier 4 visas to register their attendance at their on-campus check-in location twice a week.
International students also have to complete online check-ins during teaching sessions – something that home students aren’t required to do.
Manchester says it expects to launch a new solution in September 2024.
“Students have actively come to me individually to say how this makes them feel,” a member of the University of Manchester UCU told The PIE.
“Those conversations happen in confidence but yes, students have told me that it makes them feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.”
“This happens on a regular basis. This is not just a one time experience. It happens constantly.”
On October 18, the University of Manchester’s branch of the University and College Union passed a motion to object to the attendance monitoring and control of students who hold Tier 4 visas.
Some 95% of attendees voted in support of the UMUCU motion.
“Over the 10 years since the implementation of the hostile environment policy, we have witnessed an increase in border monitoring policies within the university that is eroding our ability to provide safe pastoral care and foster critical pedagogy for our international study body,” The UMUCU said in a statement.
The UMUCU said that the intensification of monitoring of international students who hold Tier 4 visas through frequent in-person checks outside of teaching spaces and scanning QR codes during every teaching session “further creates a discriminatory, stigmatising environment that advances the hostile environment within this University”.
“Such differential treatment of students or staff due to their place of origin, nationality or citizenship may amount to discrimination on the grounds of race. This is unlawful under the Equality Act (2010),” it added.
Impacts on teaching
The source told The PIE that staff had been contacted by the university and encouraged to display QR codes in every class reminding students to sign in.
“If I’m giving a lecture that is critical of nationalism for example, and then I include in my very same slide deck, a QR code saying “by the way, if you are an international student then remember you are under surveillance”. That to me is contrary to my pedagogy,” they said.
“At the same time they still have to do it, and there have been instances where international students have asked staff to display that side, because they know they have to sign in anyway and it makes it easier for them.”
They told The PIE that the system displays to the entire class, who has a visa and who doesn’t and so treats students differently “right off the bat”.
“Every time I don’t do something actively to resist this, I’m complicit. It makes it really difficult to encourage students to think critically about systems of power and institutions, when I’m an active part of those same institutions and systems of power,” they added.
A University of Manchester spokesperson told The PIE that ensuring compliance with UK visa regulations is essential for the university to continue welcoming international students.
“Our check-in process verifies students’ physical presence on campus and their participation in classes. This follows UK government guidelines,” the spokesperson said.
“The current process is temporary, as our online attendance system is unavailable due to a malicious cyber incident earlier this year. We expect to launch a new solution in September 2024 that will monitor the engagement of all students – from that point the separate visa check-in system will no longer be needed.
“We are closely monitoring the temporary processes, to ensure they continue to work smoothly and students can register their attendance as easily as possible.”