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Romanian and Bulgarian students say yellow card permit delays put degrees at risk | Immigration Matters

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Study work plans in ‘tatters’, say Romanian students, who need permits to work while they study in the UK.

The media is finally waking up to the huge problems experienced by Romanian and Bulgarian EU students, who do not have the same rights to live and work in the UK as other European Union citizens, as reported by Immigration Matters over the last year.

Emilia Gheorghe, a second-year Romanian student at Hull University, should have be working at an international summer school, developing children’s English language skills and arranging activities, the Guardian reports.

The job could have boosted her chances of getting a place on the Teach First scheme for high-flying graduates.

Instead, she has been forced to stay with a friend while she waits for the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to process her application for a work permit (yellow card registration certificate issued only to Bulgarian and Romanian citizens exercising Treaty Rights to study and work) – 18 months after she originally applied.

“If this happened in Romania, all Europe would have pointed the finger at us,” she says. “I’m sure most people in England don’t even know this is happening.”

She is now making a complaint to the parliamentary ombudsman against the UKBA, blaming it for losing her original application made in February last year, then failing to process her re-application – made in December – within the promised six months.

She is not the only one waiting for permission to work while she studies. Alina Cracuin, president of the university’s Romanian society, says six others at Hull alone are affected – and that is before another 25 Romanians arrive there this September.

“We really need to solve this problem as soon as possible, because some of us have a placement year and we cannot apply or start it without the yellow card – the work permit – and of course we cannot finish our degree in this situation,” she says.

The National Union of Students says it has received floods of complaints against the UKBA in recent months, from those who need to work during their studies, as well as from non-EU students applying for post-study work visas. Hundreds signed a petition this month complaining that delays mean they have had to do without their passports and other documents for months, in spite of paying more than £500.

The petition states: “If the United Kingdom … would like to continue setting a high educational standard and attracting the best and brightest from across the globe, the UKBA needs to guarantee that it will process visa applications in a timely, transparent, and efficient manner.”

Duncan Lane, director of advice and training at Ukcisa, the UK Council for International Student Affairs, says the UKBA seems to have been suffering from staff cutbacks. Staff have also had to deal with the Olympics just as student demand began to soar, with some trying to renew their leave to remain, while others arrive to do language courses. There will be an even bigger surge in September at the start of the new academic year.

Lane says changes to immigration rules have created a “climate of fear” both among institutions worried about losing their licence to recruit foreign students, and among students themselves anxious about further delays to their applications.

But Romanians and Bulgarians are EU students and are not constrained by onerous Tier 4 Rules, which only apply to non-EU students on student visas.

Ukcisa has recently received a number of reports of bogus UKBA officials asking students to pay hundreds of pounds or see their application rejected – a scam playing on current fears.

A spokesman for the UKBA says: “In recent months, the UKBA has received higher than forecast numbers of applications. We are currently redeploying staff to deal with these applications and are doing all we can to increase the availability of appointments. The majority of applications will be cleared by the end of the summer.

“In cases where applications are urgent, they can use our public enquiry offices by arranging an appointment via the Immigration Enquiry Bureau.”

Romanian and Bulgarian students are treated differently from other European students when it comes to work permits. When Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007, students were originally told they would be denied full permission to work. However, this was changed so that they can now get permission, but only if they first obtain a registration certificate confirming that they are students.

The UKBA website says it aims to decide 95% of postal applications for registration certificates within six months, but last week it was still working on cases received on December 8 2011.

Statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show 4,625 Romanian students (up nearly 45% on the previous year) and 4,615 Bulgarian students (up 36%) studied in the UK last year, putting them among the top 10 European nationalities studying here.

Gheorghe’s lecturer Mick Wilkinson, director at the centre for research on social justice at Hull, says: “If students from Romania and Bulgaria can get jobs to help with their studies in Sweden or Ireland, then they will go there. I do think there is a potential danger for this university here – and for other universities.”

George Sonei, a Romanian student at Canterbury Christ Church University, says his mother had to get a job away from home to pay for his studies because he was unable to work in his first year.

He has just received his permit, seven months after applying: “This issue should be resolved as soon as possible for students, because most of them rely on this piece of paper. It is the only way they can stay in uni, the only way they can make a living while studying.” Source: Guardian Education.

Student Administrator, Joanna, at Majestic College has helped a number of Bulgarian and Romanian students. She said the yellow card permit problem is going from bad to worse.

‘When we launched NVQ vocational courses for Bulgarian and Romanian students they could apply by post for and receive their yellow cards in a few weeks. They could get the yellow card the same day by presenting their documents at the UKBA in Croydon.

‘But since the end of 2011, applications have been taking longer and longer and some students are now waiting up to six months.

‘The UKBA system no longer seems to allow appointments at Croydon, as our students have tried for weeks online without success’.

UK work restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian nationals were extended until the end of 2013 last year.

Romanian and Bulgarian (EU2) nationals seeking to work in the UK will still need permission from the UK Border Agency before they can work in the UK.

Bulgarian and Romanian students on courses longer than six months are also forced to take out expensive private medical insurance policies (when applying for ‘yellow card’ registration documents) which they do not need, as they can get free treatment in NHS hospitals.

The ‘Comprehensive Sickness Insurance’ policy must start when they apply for the registration card which means the student, who is unable to work, is paying premiums of around £50 per month for up to 6 months before they get a decision from the UKBA. 

Despite the fact that they are EU citizens exercising Article 39 treaty rights, not all yellow card applications (student or self employed) are approved. Some students have had to apply 2 or 3 times before getting their yellow card, whilst others have had to go all the way to a full appeal at the First Tier Tribunal to overturn a refusal.

OISC approved Immigration Advisers Bison Management have conducted a number of full appeals on behalf of Bulgarians and Romanians refused yellow cards or when the cards of entire families were revoked.  

In April the European Commission gave the United Kingdom two months to comply with European Union rules on the free movement of EU citizens and their families across the EU or face an EU court case.

See: Europa press release.

See also:

New Government funded courses available for Bulgarian and Romanian EU students

Illegal workers arrested at London 2012 Olympics for immigration offences

Is the EU’s ‘Free Movement’ dream over?

European Commission warning to UK on Free Movement rights and Comprehensive Sickness Insurance remains unanswered

Free Movement of EU nationals explained

Immigration Rules for Bulgarian and Romanian nationals

Employment restrictions for Bulgarians and Romanians extended until end of 2013

7 tips for completing a Yellow Card BR1 application to work and study in the UK


Illegal workers arrested at London 2012 Olympics for immigration offences

Yellow or Blue Card Refused – Appeal or Reapply?

Romanian Gangmaster Sara Recruitment loses licence for self-employment sham

How Romanians and Bulgarians working illegally without Yellow Card or papers can legalise their status in the UK

If you need any immigration advice or help with Sponsorship or Work Permits, Visa, ILR/Settlement, Citizenship, dependant visa or an appeal against a refusal please email: or visit

Majestic College offer special packages for EU students. They also have a number of employers looking for staff right now and are willing to employ Bulgarians and Romanians.

For more information call Joanna on 0208 207 1020 or email

Overseas students and workers can qualify for a tax refund 

You could qualify for a tax refund if you are an overseas student, work permit holder, Tier 1, Yellow or Blue Card holder – in fact any visa type – even if you are no longer legal or even in the UK!

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