“I am welcome to study, but not to work”: An international student’s reflection on being in the UK

Gisele Alves is two years into a PhD in Civil Engineering at Glasgow Caledonian University. Gisele is Brazilian and recently spoke about her reasons for choosing to study in Scotland, and the visa challenges facing her, at a Universities Scotland fringe event at the Scottish Conservatives Party Conference in early March. Gisele said:

“When I was offered an opportunity for a full PhD abroad, in any country of my choice, I chose to study in Scotland because out of all the universities I considered, and even in other countries in the UK, the Scottish universities were the ones which made me feel most welcome and helped me through the process of settling into another country.

“Studying here continues to be a wonderful experience. I have made friends and met many international students from all around the world, including a good many women engineers. This is something special that Scotland should be proud of and should encourage.

“Right now, I feel very welcome to study here. However, I do not feel welcome to stay and find work in my field of engineering. This is a shame, as I have come to think of Scotland as a second home. And I am not alone in this view. Many of my colleagues feel the same.

“Scotland has given me an opportunity to further my studies, and as an engineer I have the skills to repay this. In two years I will finish my research and my visa will expire. This is an important moment for international students when I can chose to return to Brazil, or look for other opportunity elsewhere to apply the skills I have learnt here in Scotland. It would be great if I could stay, this is a fantastic place to live and I feel I can contribute. However, my experience of the visa process is that it is complicated and does not want to allow me to stay.

“If I could choose, once again, to restart my study I probably would not choose Scotland. Not because I don’t like living here, because I do; and not because there are better universities elsewhere. But, I would choose a place that would offer me a chance of employment in my field.

“Immigration is a contentious topic at the moment in the United Kingdom. However, when it comes to skilled, educated professionals, myself and other international students do wonder why the Visa system is so difficult. For an employer to offer a job, I require a visa. And the UK visa system is not very accommodating of requests for visa without an offer of a job. For young professionals the income requirements for a visa are another hurdle to contributing to Scotland after graduation.

“This seems to be an odd situation, given the success of my university is highly dependent on international staff to teach and supervise. Indeed, my own supervisors are from Macedonia and Oman. Their experiences and perspectives on the challenges faced in their home countries have helped my research and development as a professional.

“Scotland is an amazing country with the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen, and a rich history (some of your historical buildings are older than my country). The food here is a bit odd, but Haggis is great so that is okay! When I came to Scotland, my knowledge about this country was mainly what I saw in BraveHeart, and I was a little disappointed that not all men wear kilts. But, the university has given international students the chance to be engaged in many community events and I have learnt more about Scotland and Scottish culture, which I have the pleasure to share with my friends in Brazil and other places around the world.

“It is my hope that Scotland and the UK will support highly educated people from the international community to keep coming to Scotland and encourage them to stay after completing their studies.”