Editor’s Letter, Issue 9 – “The (UK) voice of the (UK) Student Body” and the Structural Barriers of May’s Immigration Policies

Dear readers,

And so here we are, at the end of a week where the record for England’s hottest ever day in February was broken only the very next day. The copious amounts of sunshine have seen students sat outside on the grass drinking their Co-op slush puppies, Co-op bottled water and Co-op Smirnoff Ice, questioning whether the warm weather is a blessing from the uni gods or just another indication of our planet’s impending doom. Some students, in an effort to reduce waste and protect their clothes from the damp grass, have been using copies of The Gryphon as makeshift picnic blankets, to which I can only ask that you cease and desist immediately. There’s only one source of student journalism in Leeds that deserves smearing your arse all over but, unfortunately, it doesn’t exist in a printed form.

Now, while those of you who read my biweekly outbursts may be accustomed to me slandering the ‘legacy’ of my predecessor, Reece Parker, this week is going to be slightly different. Instead, I’m going to talk about someone who might have been my successor. If you’ve been on campus over the past two weeks, it’s highly likely that you heard of LeadLUU, the university-wide vote which decides who will take over as next year’s student exec and Gryphon Editor-in-Chief (EIC). If you’ve noticed the incessant campaigning, then you probably also noticed the distinct lack of ‘Vote Mikhail’ banners, for which there is an upsetting reason.

Mikhail is a current Music Editor at the Gryphon, and he was an Editor of the Arts section last year. About two months ago, Mikhail let me know his intentions to use these two years of print and online experience to run for EIC. He was going to organise a talented team, get some solid policies, and plan for a strong campaign. All was well, until a few weeks before the election kicked off, when Mikhail was told that he couldn’t run – simply because of his international status.

It goes without saying that Mikhail was gutted. It turned out that, in order to get a VISA, Mikhail would have to land a job which paid £20,800 a year – something the EIC role does not do (my steadily increasing overdraft is a testament to this). While the other exec positions are defined as sabbatical roles, and are therefore eligible for a Tier 4 VISA, the EIC position operates slightly differently, as to be both a trustee of the Union and the main source of holding it to account are two conflicting responsibilities. 

I would like to make it clear that this is not the fault of LUU or the University of Leeds – in fact, staff members went above and beyond themselves in trying to find a solution. However, the fact that their efforts could not change what was already set in motion is an indicator to just how deeply ingrained the barriers Mikhail faces actually are. Before Mikhail ran for EIC, nobody knew that someone who lived outside of the EU could not take on the position. It was a total blind spot. And perhaps that’s the point; no one had planned for this technicality because no one had taken into account just how poisonous and insidious the UK’s immigration laws are.

See, in Theresa May and Sajid Javid’s eyes, anything less than £20,800 a year does not constitute a ‘skilled job’. Now, as Mikhail has pointed out in his wonderfully written Medium blog (seriously, check it out), the role of EIC involves coordinating a team of 40+ editors, liaising with Press Officers and curating twelve or more issues of the Gryphon across the year. That in itself is a skill. Even though a silly boy like me, who thinks lumberjack shirts and rolled-up jeans constitute ‘style’, can somehow manage to stitch together a 48 page newspaper every now and then, this job requires skill – a skill that is vital to the democratic process at LUU. And believe me when I say that Mikhail would have been 10 times the editor I have been, and 100 times the ‘editor’ that Reece Parker was.

There is no real room for flexibility when it comes to students from outside the EU who are looking to stay in the country and the city which gladly took their money in return for an education. Every step of the immigration process is designed to make it as difficult as possible for someone like Mikhail to migrate, and that’s a problem we need to address. Applicants can only apply to government-approved Tier 2 sponsors, and since businesses have to pay to become Tier 2 sponsors, it is remarkably more costly for businesses to hire an immigrant. It is due to these additional costs that wonderfully talented individuals like Mikhail are being prevented from providing to the communities they have come to call home.

As such, in solidarity with Mikhail, I would like to give him his own little space in this week’s Editor’s Letter, a space which he should have been able to campaign to make his own: 

“The reason why the Editor-in-chief is an elected position is that The Gryphon is meant to be the student mouthpiece. What does it say when an international student is barred from running for the role? It turns out that ‘the voice of the student body’ actually means ‘the (UK) voice of the (UK) student body’. Not being able to campaign was, in itself, disappointing enough, but what really hurt was the feeling that I don’t belong. I  suppose I’ll just try and get a job. Thinking about the odds is discouraging; prospects are slim considering there are less than 30,000 employers registered to sponsor immigrants across all the industries in all of the UK. Maybe I’ll start saying goodbye to everyone, just in case.”

Goodbyes are never really goodbyes until we give up in the face of adversity. I thought it was Gandalf who said that, but it turns out it was just my own profound thoughts on a late Thursday print deadline night. Whatever happens, we will work to ensure that, in the near future, any student, regardless of where they have come from or where they are going to, can become the mouthpiece for students at Leeds – without Theresa May fucking them over at the last minute.

Stay Classy,

Robbie Cairns