International Students in your campaign

The vast majority of international students in the UK are in higher education. International students from outside the European Economic Area (and soon, potentially, from the EEA too) are often treated as nothing more than sources of revenue; from expensive visa application charges to unlimited tuition fees, international students are squeezed for money from every angle.

Landlords, of course, are no different. Universities often team up with private purpose-built student accommodation providers to offer extremely expensive accommodation in “premium” halls of residence to international freshers, which can seem like a safe and attractive option for someone from thousands of miles away who has never set foot in the UK. Despite exorbitant rents (which can hit over £300 a week in London), these halls are often not that much better than cheaper student halls - while it might not be the worst student accommodation, international students certainly aren’t getting their money’s worth.

As a result, many international students enter the private rented sector, rather than put up with another year of being exploited by their universities. While rents may be lower outside the student housing market, landlords are even more unscrupulous. International students are particularly vulnerable to exploitative tenancy or lodging agreements as they may not have English as a first language, and may not understand their rights and the complex rules around housing in the UK. They also usually don’t have UK guarantors, meaning that landlords can make them pay several months’ worth of rent up-front if their university doesn’t have a rent guarantor scheme (effectively locking them into a tenancy, even if the house or flat turns out to have problems).

One major barrier to involving international students in housing activism is that international students may not know their rights. International students may be coming from social or political contexts where protest and dissent is suppressed or discouraged, and may have little experience of collective action as a result. Additionally, non-EEA international students may be concerned about losing their immigration status as a result of disciplinary action by the university (leading to expulsion and cancellation of their visa) or criminal charges. Those moving from university housing to the private rented sector may also be worried about being denied rent guarantees or references by the university if they take part in rent strikes.

As such, it is important for housing campaigners to understand the rights and risks relevant to housing activism with respect to immigration status; this will help include international students by giving them the confidence to participate in housing campaigns, and also prevent them from inadvertently getting into trouble when they take part in actions.