'Tiptoeing on eggshells...' - between the student-migrant-worker and the law

DIRISU, Mohammed (2020). 'Tiptoeing on eggshells...' - between the student-migrant-worker and the law. Doctoral, Sheffield Hallam University.

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Link to published version:: https://doi.org/10.7190/shu-thesis-00402


International student migration makes a significant contribution to higher education in the United Kingdom (UK). They comprise a fifth of all students in the sector, and account for 14 per cent of universities' total income in 2017/18. Yet these students' impact on the UK is far more profound than simply adding a revenue stream to the university sector. Their cultural, social and economic contributions are less easy to quantify but no less important and enriching. Three quarters of international students are from non-EU countries with China sending the single most students to the UK. However, West Africa, and Nigeria in particular, is responsible for 2 per cent of the overall number of international students and is positioned joint sixth in the top ten of sending countries. Many of these student-migrants, in supplementing their finances to fund their studies in the UK, undertake employment. Temporary and/or part-time employment is integral to the student-migrant experience, despite the express purpose of their admission into the UK designated for study purposes and not work. This explicit object is reflected in restrictions affixed to international students' employment rights whilst studying; they are generally restricted to a maximum of 20 hours of work per week during term time and proscribed from working full-time or as independent contractors. Given the scant regard this topic has received in the existing literature, this study offers an examination of students' lived employment experiences under these rules. There is a dearth of insight and knowledge available on students' everyday mobilities as transnational actors, and those studies which do offer some insights are inherently fragmented. This is pertinent because any bid, albeit by the state or Higher Education Institutions, to improve the holistic experiences of international students in the UK is best served when informed by nuanced empirical accounts of their subjective experiences within specified contexts, including temporary employment. More so, considering the significant economic and socio-cultural benefits of their presence, this insight is integral to efforts towards attracting more international students to the country and strengthening the UK's position as a prime study destination. This study adopts a qualitative methodology through interviews and ethnographic observations with cohorts of international student workers from sub-Saharan Africa to present a holistic picture of the lived experiences, through employment practices, of this group of student-migrant-workers. The study aims to offer contributions to the existing body of literature in two principal ways. First, it accounts for the employment experiences of student-migrants through the analytical framework of 'precarity' by examining the various manifestations of insecurity in the students' lived realities, nuanced by structures of migration control and labour market temporalities. I discover that these students are forced to contend with intersecting forms of insecurities in their labour market encounters. This reifies their dependence on certain forms of employment and relationships, and renders them increasingly susceptible to unfavourable work conditions including low pay, exploitation, discrimination and abuse. I conclude this aspect of the study by advancing an argument that Higher Education Institutions, as the primary sponsors of these students, must do more to forearm them with candid insights on what to expect of the temporary employment market, and furnish them with a comprehensive knowledge of their accruable employment rights. For the second contribution, adopting the socio-legal schema of legal consciousness, this study considers the student-migrants' relationship with the law by way of the legal restrictions on their employment and interrogate their agency in their efforts to derogate from these rules. These derogations are conceptualised as 'semi-legality', an analytical construct that marks an indeterminate halfway point between utter illegality and compliance, as it applies to labour. I find that there are two discernible plots towards enabling semi-legal employment and evading detection thereof. The first involves the students undertaking work with different employers simultaneously, meanwhile the second entails students contracting for work through the use of private limited companies as a trading structure. I argue that the specifics of the student's violation of visa rules has profound distinctive implications for their legal consciousness disposition and more so the manner in which they simultaneously resist and make recourse to the law and its institutions towards resolving workplace grievances.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Thesis advisor - Marson, James [0000-0001-9705-9671]
Additional Information: Director of studies: Dr. James Marson
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sheffield Hallam Doctoral Theses
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.7190/shu-thesis-00402
Depositing User: Colin Knott
Date Deposited: 12 Nov 2021 15:53
Last Modified: 03 May 2023 02:04
URI: https://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/29323

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