New UKBA hurdles at the border for returning students

By Lian Kim Selby

Lian Kim Selby is currently studying International Relations at the University of Edinburgh, and a volunteer at Migrants’ Rights Scotland. An American from Singapore now living in Scotland, she takes keen interest in issues of migration and human rights.


I arrived back in the UK after the long three-month summer break in September. After a 12-hour journey, I was exhausted and extremely sleepy. I trudged off the plane and mentally prepared myself for the arduous wait in the immigration queue at Heathrow. I was surprised to see that there was a whole new queue for ‘International Students’ and was directed by an airport official into the long queue. Signs along the row stated a number of documents you had to have in hand when you went forward to the UK Border counter, differing if you were a ‘New Student’ or a ‘Returning Student’. I felt so confused and slightly dazed having just gotten off such a long flight.

I quickly scanned the ‘Returning Student’ sign and saw that some documents required were my CAS number, my university sponsor letter, student card. I looked forward – most of the people in front of me were holding folders of documents, most of them scanning through to make sure they had all the necessary papers.

I stood in the queue feeling absolutely petrified. I did not have any of those documents on me. As the queue continued to move up, I saw marshals walking up and down the row attending to people who had queries. They were extremely busy and I was unable to get their attention. Why wasn’t I informed that I needed to have these documents with me? I had returned from home to the UK at least 10 times and not one of those times was there a separate queue or the requirement to have all these additional documents. My passport and student visa inside usually sufficed.

Thankfully, when it was my turn, I was able to get through, as they did not ask for those additional documents. In my relief, I was left still curious as to what made the difference. Perhaps all those in the queue were new students. But the signs did indicate ‘returning’ students too. So what’s the rule? And what papers should returning students carry on them?

In my previous blog, I wrote about the struggles of being a UK international student, and I spoke about the constant changes that posed a great inconvenience to many. I continue to be frustrated by the process, and more so by the fact that changes are made but there is a lack of information being supplied to students themselves in order to make the process much easier. In terms of these changes requiring documents to be presented on entering the UK, more information should be supplied to students, both new and returning, in order that there are no problems or miscommunication involved. International students should not have to return to the UK to be fearful if they will be allowed to pass through immigration or not.

It’s already months since that first blog: constant changes to regulations make things very disorganized and confusing to incoming and current overseas students. It continues to be so. I strongly believe that much more can be done in order to make international students, some who have travelled thousands of miles from home to make it here, feel much more at home and welcomed in the UK.

If you are a student with similar experiences, please let us know. Send an email to