Page last updated at 12:48 GMT, Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Jobless Indians 'face ruin' in UK

Two females students whose dream of coming to England has turned sour
The UK dream has turned sour for these female students in London

A section of Indians who have come to the United Kingdom on student visas say they are facing financial ruin as they cannot find work. Many have been getting free meals at a Sikh gurdwara in west London, as Poonam Taneja of BBC Asian Network reports.

It is lunchtime in the kitchen of the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara in Southall and an army of volunteers are preparing "langar", the free meal available to all worshippers.

The kitchen opens at dawn and closes late at night and the numbers of people eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at the temple have soared, according to the gurdwara President Didar Singh Randawa.

Most are students from the Indian state of Punjab.

'Ran out of money'

Harpreet, 19, is one of them. She came to England two months ago but now she is penniless and homeless.

"There were four of us in one room, every girl was paying £150 ($242) a month in rent," she explained. "We lived there for two months and then ran out of money."

Harpreet travelled to Britain on a student visa with her childhood friend Manjit.

In Punjab they paid an agent thousands of dollars to arrange their journey and were assured they would be able to find jobs in the UK to pay for their food and accommodation.

Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha Ji president Didar Singh Randawa
There are no jobs and, if you want to come to study, please make sure you have sufficient funds with you for at least six months
Gurdwara President Didar Singh Randawa

Foreign students are allowed to work 20 hours per week but the pair speak little English and have not found any employment.

Manjit is now desperately worried about the debts they have already incurred.

"It was the money our parents saved for our dowries. It was $11,306 (£7,000)," she said.

"We don't have anywhere to turn and we are not getting work. We can't even give our parents their money back. We've lost everything."

Those coming to the UK as students have to go to college to fulfil the criteria of their visas and, while there will be those in the UK for educational purposes, the main motivation of many spoken to by the BBC Asian Network is to earn money.

And, even those fortunate enough to have found jobs say they are often exploited by their employers.


"The don't pay us," says Sukhdev Singh, who arrived in Southall five months ago.

"I've worked in factories where the boss is a Sikh like me. He claims to be religious but he conned us out of our money."

The number of students coming to the UK from India and Bangladesh has nearly tripled since last April when a new points-based immigration system was introduced.

A Freedom of Information request showed that between June and August this year the British High Commissions in Mumbai (Bombay), Delhi and Dhaka issued 19,950 student visas.

Immigration lawyer Harjap Singh Bhangal believes this has led to an influx of south Asians who want a student visa to find jobs.

Immigration lawyer Harjap Singh Bhangal
Immigration lawyer Harjap Singh says the student influx has caused tension

"The large majority of them are not genuine students, especially from Punjab," he said. "They've come here to work in the guise of student visas."

He is now worried the problem is causing resentment among the local Indian community who settled here in the 1960s.

"There is some tension in our community," Mr Bhangal explained.

"The Indian people who are established here feel that the students are giving them a bad name because the students have been seen begging door-to-door and sleeping in the streets."

Gurdawara President Mr Randawa says he has even heard of some desperate female students turning to prostitution to pay the rent and warned those travelling to the United Kingdom to study aginst it unless they can financially support themselves.

He says the gurdwara is trying to help but there are limits to what they can do. Mr Randawa's advice for Indian's considering travelling the UK to study is simple.

"There are no jobs and, if you want to come to study, please make sure you have sufficient funds with you for at least six months," he said.

Travel agencies in Southall we spoke to say a growing number of students are now returning to Punjab with their dreams of a prosperous new life in England shattered.

Although Ealing Southall Labour MP Virendra Sharma sympathises with the plight of these students, he says many have only themselves to blame.

"If they can't find a job, then they have to go back because they have broken a contract," he said.

The names of the Indians mentioned above have been changed to protect their identity.

You can hear more at 1230 and 1800 GMT on the BBC's Asian Network Reports radio show or via the BBC iPlayer.

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