A disabled student from India living in Glasgow has been left with no job and had her status in the UK threatened by a Home Office administrative error which showed her valid visa was expired.

Aishwarya Balasubramanian, who lives with cerebral palsy, discovered that the Home Office’s system displayed her visa as having expired in 2021 when in fact she has a physical copy showing its validity until 2024, after trying to process paperwork for a new part time job.

She first encountered the problem when her new employer asked her to produce a share code, a number which is used to verify an individual’s right to work in the UK. When trying to access the code, she was met with an error message stating that her data did not match and she appeared to be locked out of her account.

It was not until the fourth call to the Home Office, each with a different team member to whom she would have to relay the story from the beginning, that Aishwarya was told her international student visa was showing up as expired on the system.

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The Home Office has labelled the issue a “processing error”, but it is yet to be resolved despite Aishwarya having been calling the team since 2 May.

After four and a half days in the job, she was told she would not be able to come back in until the paperwork was in order and the share code produced. Three weeks later, with no resolution yet provided by the Home Office after three weeks, she was told by her new employer she would no longer be needed. 

Finding a student job has been difficult for Aishwarya as someone with cerebral palsy: “It has been really hard for me to find work that’s suitable for me and also my abilities. I cannot work as a barista, I cannot work at a café, I cannot serve. So my options are really limited. I had applied to around 20 part-time receptionist or admin roles.”

She has now found herself in financial hardship given she had been relying on the new job to see her through her next few months in Glasgow: “I have lost all my payments. I have £700 monthly rent to pay and there are additional expenditures and a cost of living crisis. The biggest thing is it’s a heavy mental stress on me because I want to know that I will be able to work at other places. But if my visa is not valid, then how can I work anywhere? The Home Office is costing me my income and also my job.”

The Herald:

Aishwarya Balasubramanian

“If my visa is showing as expired on the online system, that technically means I cannot work anywhere at a paid job and I am like an illegal migrant. I was very worried about my safety as an international student.”

Since October last year Aishwarya has been living in Glasgow completing a work placement year, working at Glasgow Women’s Library just off Glasgow Green. This experience makes up her third year at Bournemouth University where she studies Media and Communications.

Her situation with the Home Office has not only left the student with financial concerns over funding her next few months in Glasgow and whether this could affect plans to take up a part time job on the university campus when she returns to Bournemouth for the final year of her degree in September, but also worried about her longer-term future in the UK. Her plan is to follow the path of many international students and transition from the student visa next year to a two-year graduate visa, which provides a route to gaining settled status in the UK.

“I want to know that I am safe and I want to know that no one can question me or even Glasgow Women’s Library or my new employer. I don't want anyone to be questioned or interrogated or blamed for something that I was sure was not going to come up,” she said.

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The biggest question for Aishwarya remains why it has taken so far almost one month for what is seemingly an admin error to be corrected by the Home Office. “Just because of an administration error, I am having to pay the price. I just feel that if it’s an admin online glitch, then it shouldn’t take more than two weeks. It shouldn’t take more than one week. I need answers and I need them to be accountable, but I need the resolution. I need immediate action and I was expecting the action to happen in the first week itself.”

Aishwarya continued: “The Home Office is not able to give answers to my questions. They are not able to hold themselves accountable for their mistake, they are more focused on passing the blame. It’s the fault of the people who sent you the Biometric Residence Permit, or it’s the fault of the technical department, or it’s the fault of something else.”

The case has become even more complicated since Aishwarya met with Citizens Advice after losing her job. Advisers escalated her case to an Ethnic Minorities Law Centre who expressed surprise she was asked to provide a share code at all, saying that the biometric residence permit, or visa, should have been sufficient to get her through the first stage of employment. For Aishwarya, the main concern of the larger problem of her valid visa being shown as expired.

A Home Office spokesperson told The Herald: “We have identified a processing error with this visa and are working to resolve it. We will be in contact with Ms Balasubramanian shortly to update her on our progress.”