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Dr Islam’s visa fate ‘reveals hole at heart of UK university policy’, says Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner

Daniel Zeichner with Dr Asiya Islam (28968133)
Daniel Zeichner with Dr Asiya Islam (28968133)

Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner has hit out at the message being sent to global talent as revealed by the case of Dr Asiya Islam, whose application for indefinite leave to remain in the UK after 10 years was refused by the Home Office in November.

With the government desperate to ensure that the UK has a world-class pipeline of talent at the engine room of post-Brexity UK, Dr Islam remains on a temporary visa awaiting the outcome of her Home Office review – along with numerous other academics whose treatment has “sent shockwaves” through universities.

Dr Islam, 31, who has a PhD in sociology from the University of Cambridge and is an expert on gender and class in urban India, has been denied indefinite leave to remain in the UK due to the amount of time she spent abroad, despite living and working in the UK since 2009. Last year she was awarded a three-year junior research fellowship at the university. Her PhD work took her to urban Delhi in 2016 and 2017, where she was researching gender and class in urban India as part of a PhD on the participation of women in the labour market. But she was told that she had spent too many days abroad to qualify for indefinite leave status. Her visa expired on January 30, whereupon she was told to apply for a temporary tier 2 visa to keep working in the UK while her appeal was still pending.

A protest letter from 2,055 professors, emeriti, faculty members and other academic individuals and organisations around the world has failed to have an impact. Mr Zeichner recently joined Dr Islam, 31, and campaigners at the Home Office to hand in the letter calling for the sociologist to be allowed to continue her academic work in the UK.

Daniel Zeichner, Dr Asiya Islam (28968136)
Daniel Zeichner, Dr Asiya Islam (28968136)

However, Mr Zeichner, the shadow minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said he preferred not to blame the debacle on the shoulders of Chris Skidmore MP, the universities and science minister, who was the butt of a recent tweet by Dr Islam.

“The case of Dr Islam is highlighting a whole series of flaws in the system,” Mr Zeichner said. “To give Chris his credit, he did put pressure on the government, and some parts of the government do understand that universities don’t want to be seen as no-go areas for overseas students and academics.

“The case has highlighted a fundamental hole at the heart of government. The tension in policy terms is this: if universities are to be at the heart of Britain’s success in the coming decade and beyond, then if it’s not going to be open for overseas applicants, it’s not going to be a success.”

Dr Islam told the Cambridge Independent: “With no indication of willingness from the Home Office to review my case, I was compelled to make a fresh application for a temporary visa to ensure that I can continue my employment for now. However, the issue of settlement still remains – for me as well as for many international students and faculty who have been watching the case closely. I hope that this public concern can push the Home Office to reconsider their policies and practices.”

The city’s Labour MP added: “Ministers are very well aware of Dr Islam’s case so we need to keep up the pressure. Many academics have to work abroad as part of their research so this is a case with wider implications. At a time when Britain’s hard-won reputation for global excellence faces many challenges, we need clear thinking to ensure universities can thrive and attract the very best people from around the world.”

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