Wage Discrepancies and Health Care Imbalances of Non-EU and Irregular Migrant Workers

by Rumana Hashem

The stories of displacement and discriminations have been written originally for a blogspot called the Migrant Working Lives, to be launched by a public sociologist and migrant rights academic-activist in the UK. Due to financial hardship and limited capacity , the blogspot has not been published. The materials for this text were collated through the undertaking of a civic engagement and oral history project in London in 2015. Some of these stories also reflect on the author’s engagement with asylum seekers and refugees on the OLIve Higher Education course, a teaching and learning programme at the University of East London.

Ahmed [i] was born in and grew up in Kuwait. He moved to the UK in 2015, and lived in a refugee home for 16 months during the asylum seeking process in London. He has recently been granted asylum in the UK. But this positive outcome of his application has brought in negative consequences and new uncertainties for Ahmed. Due to his settlement status in the UK, he has been kicked out of the refugee home in London where he was sharing a room with another asylum seeker.  He was given only three days to move out of the house since the grant of asylum, which subsequently made him homeless in a city that he knew no-one but his lawyer. In Kuwait, he had completed his undergraduate studies in business administration and had gained a bachelor degree in business studies, BBA (hons.). He was about to start post-graduate studies before the conflict back home got insufferable, thereby forcing him to choose exile in the UK. He is fluent in English, and is searching for a job in the UK, simultaneously applying to universities for post-graduate studies. He would like to use his previous experience and skills developed as a graduate in Business Administration but the qualification he has gained in Kuwait is not recognised in the UK.  He is confident that he can undertake post-graduate studies in business administration or a related subject in social sciences, if given the opportunity. But there are many obstacles for him to be able to gain access to higher education in the UK. He has no money to start a new programme until a scholarship is to be found, and he has no fund for living in the UK.  When he was granted asylum, he has not been given any advice on how to apply for fund or to secure a paid work in the UK. He has finally found a free course to get enrolled at pre-entry level, and can see a possibility to start higher education in business studies.  But his living became very difficult as he had no paid work and income of his own. In the future, he would like to start his own business and become self-employed if a university will offer him a post-graduate study scholarship. He does not know when he can return to his home country.

Neela was born in a South American country, and has moved to the UK about 21 years ago in the face of gendered violence in her home town. She has lost her mother at early childhood, and has grown up with step mother whom her father married after her mother died. Although her father is an established scientist, Neela suffered from poverty and hunger since she was 9 years old. She had symptoms of epilepsy since her girlhood. Due to her condition, she was faced with bullying in school. She has also experienced negligence and domestic abuse as a girl child in the family. She never felt at home in US and has moved to the UK with a high school certificate when she was 17 years old. She is fluent in English and is capable of pursing jobs but she gets only low paid work, such as, cleaning and as a waitress. Neela is a women’s rights activist and a human rights advocate. She is searching for a job in the field of human rights, without luck, for nearly a decade. Due to her nationality she has not been accepted by any UK university for studies. She was not granted asylum in the UK.  Her health condition is getting worse and she is suffering from severe epilepsy. She has no house to live in the UK. Due to housing problem she lives a vulnerable life in London. She is currently doing odd jobs at low wage which has severe effects on her health. Her employer appeared as bullying her for being off sick and threatened her to suspend from work if her medical condition continues.

Nirjana was born in Bangladesh and moved in the UK via Germany in 2007. She is fluent in English and moved to the UK to undertake PhD, and was granted indefinite leave to remain following her marriage with a British citizen. But she has decided to keep her original nationality and did not apply for a British nationality yet. She has gained a good first degree and a Masters in public administration and sociology in Bangladesh. She has also completed a PhD, with a focus on gender and ethnic relations in conflict situation in Bangladesh, from a UK University. She has experience of teaching at undergraduate and post-graduate levels in conflict and peace studies, psychosocial studies, sociology of gender and development, sociology of ethnicity and migration, and medical sociology. Before moving to the UK, she has taught in a modern university in Bangladesh where the medium of education was English. She has also developed on her teaching experience at undergraduate level during her PhD in the UK.  Since the completion of her PhD in 2014, she has been applying for academic positions and teaching jobs without luck, across the UK. Except for a few occasions, all of her applications were rejected. She did not get any response to enquiries about why and how the applications were rejected. She has applied for 52 jobs, including teaching roles and research positions in universities. Of these applications, some 15 applications were below Grade F. Nevertheless, she was rarely shortlisted for interviews.  Except one occasion, the negative results of interviews did not include specific feedback. She has requested for feedback but there was no answer to her email. In addition, the 2014 immigration legislation has resulted in curtailing of her work permit in the UK. Despite her settlement in 2012 in the UK, she has been charged £850 for a new biometric which would ensure her work permit.  Due to visa curtail, she had undergone severe hardship and mental health issues. She did not have any income of her own for three years and has only received work permit in November 2017. Given the situation, she is now thinking to leave the UK as she realised that her nationality is a major obstacle for job applications in UK academia. Her health has been deteriorating.

Ronobir was born in Bangladesh, and has moved to the UK for higher studies in 2011. He first came in the UK as an international student to study business administration at the University of London. He is fluent in English, and has obtained a BBA (hons.) and MBA in the UK. Following a series of religious murders in 2015, during his Masters studies, his family home in Bangladesh was attacked by religious mobs declaring him a kafir (non-believer)  and, hence, to be killed. His father was compelled to disown him in a Bangladeshi court. He has later sought asylum in the UK, and was granted asylum in mid 2016. But he could not find a job in his field of expertise. He has tried for jobs in library service also and thinks that he can provide customer service in libraries. He has experience in customer service and has worked in Tesco superstore during his undergraduate studies in the UK. He is fluent in English and is interested in books and library work. He thinks that his experience in customer service could be useful for a librarian post. But he could not get any job in his chosen field. In 2016, he has started to work as a night-shift security staff in a hotel in London, and was subsequently robbed during his duty. While his official contract shows that he was responsible for security service in one hotel, in reality it was otherwise. He was compelled to take on additional duties and required to work simultaneously in two different hotels. He was required to change hotels and walk from one hotel to another every night, after midnight. He had been attacked on the street during his movement from one hotel to another just before midnight in East London. He was stabbed repeatedly and was hospitalised in a critical condition. Although he survived the recovery took two months.  He left the hotel job afterwards. As he left his job before the contract ends, the hotel management denied his leave, thereby causing him financial hardship for months. He starved for days, and faced with debt for months. He is now working in a superstore whilst taking a training course in library services in London. He hopes that one day a job in his field will come by his way.

Sharifa was born in Algeria, and grew up in a wealthy family. She has moved to the UK in late 2015. Back home, she has gained a first degree in Business Studies and a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from a recognised University in her home country. Before moving to the UK, she was an established business entrepreneur, a wife of a well-established businessman, and a mother of three children. She has moved to the UK under religious persecution, and is seeking asylum in the UK. She finds it hard to live alone here when her whole family is left in her country. Her English is at intermediate level but she struggles to understand British English accent. Although she is keen to work voluntarily during the asylum-seeking process, she is unable to get work.  Due to her English accent she stays remote, mostly home, and has been confined in four walls in a village in the Midlands. She is trying to improve her listening and speaking English, and has started a weekend course for pre-entry students. As a post-graduate and previously established in business profession, she finds herself being embarrassed with young students in a pre-entry course. Her health is not well and her doctor is concerned about her condition.

Shahosh was born in Morocco and left his home country when he was 23 years old. He moved to the UK in end of 2014, following religious persecution which he faced under the aegis of Moroccan dictatorship. He was granted asylum in late 2015 but he is still jobless. He is a secularist-activist, speaks fluent English, and dresses as any other British and Europeans but he couldn’t gain access to higher studies nor find a job. He finds himself in isolation in the central London area. When he walks on the streets of London people questions him about his curly hair and asks if they can touch his hair, if his hair is real. As a black Moroccan, he faces racism in London’s streets. Shahosh suffers from a condition related to his mobility. Despite his health condition, he did not have any medical service for 11 months between December 2014 and September 2015. In his home country he was independent and has completed school education. His dream was to study in a university but his move over UK has made it incredibly difficult. Although he has Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK, the universities in the UK did not accept his application for undergraduate studies. Besides, the expenses for education in the UK universities are so high that he could not get enrolled in any course. He was hoping for a scholarship but nothing is coming by his way. He does not have a paid job to afford tuition fees for studies, and is currently desperately looking for a paid work in London. His situation has resulted in severe level of anxiety and isolation which has negative affects in his mental health.

Sinthia was born in Poland and grew up in a war torn town which was destroyed by Hitler’s military during the Second World War. Sinthia is fluent in English, and has moved to the UK in 2005.  Her home town had been reconstructed and is known as a city of refugees and forced migrants. For Sinthia, the town is still sleepy and “still to wake up from nationalism and prejudice of race”. She has indefinite leave to remain in the UK. Before moving to the UK, she has gained a First degree in anthropology in Poland. She has distinction in undergraduate, and decided to move out of Poland in thirst of diversity and transnational feminist practice. She has got enrolled in University of Brighton in 2005 and has successfully completed a MA in Social Policy. Her excellent result in MA has enabled a three-year PhD studentship in Social Policy and Social Work. She was awarded a PhD in family allowance of asylum seekers in Britain in 2011. She has been searching for a paid job in the field of anthropology, migration and social policy research since. She has applied for over 20 jobs and attended a dozens of job interviews without luck. In 2013 she was employed on a temporary contract of four months by a third sector organisation. She had later worked full-time as a migration researcher for another NGO in London. But her wage in both places was so low that she could not afford living costs in London. After trying for a suitable job for five years she has left the UK in summer 2016. There were vacancies in the field of migration and refugee studies for which she believed that she was qualified but was neglected and let down during the interview process. The job situation and financial hardship went as worse as to cause depression. Sinthia has now moved over Ethiopea with a trainer’s position in a humanitarian organisation. She does not want to come back to UK.



[i] Pseudonyms were used in order to safeguard participants’ anonymity. All participants have been given Bangla names. The pseudonyms used in this text are symbolic of my participants’ attributes, and their philosophical positionings and sense of belonging. For instance, Ahmed is a Muslim name and refers to someone who is a strong believer in Islam, and lives simple life without prejudice.  Neela refers to blue sky and loving person who lives with pain. Nirjana stands for solitary reaper. Ronobir refers to courageous, free from prejudice, and firm. Sinthia refers to a curious feminist, flexible, and wonderer. Shahosh stands for brave and outspoken. Each of these names holds hope for a positive and peaceful living.