Science - February 24, 2005

‘We’re students, not criminals’

For many international students renewing a residence permit is an unpleasant introduction to Dutch bureaucracy. Sarah Tang Yun, who comes from China, had such an experience. As a result of a number of misunderstandings she was unable to submit the correct papers on time; the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) decided that she was not eligible for a visa extension and would have to leave the country. She has now appealed against the decision and has been allowed to stay while her case is pending.

Non-EU students are admitted to the Netherlands on the basis of an entry visa. On arrival they have to apply for a residence permit in the municipality where they reside. To get the permit, which is valid for a year and therefore has to be renewed annually, the students have to submit a number of pieces of evidence, including a bank statement with a clearly visible balance. Not all students are aware of the rules and it happens regularly that a student is informed that his or her application is incomplete. This takes the form of a long letter from IND in Dutch with a lot of legal jargon explaining what the problem is. Even though they have four weeks within which to appeal, many students are frightened off. WSO student support has already received requests from twenty students who have had problems renewing their residence permit. Nine have been waiting longer than seven months for their permits.

Yun applied for her visa renewal just before she moved from Enschede to Wageningen to continue her study. Something went wrong and the application got stuck. Yun: ‘I went the wrong way about arranging my extension here in Wageningen because I did not know the exact rules of IND. And the relevant staff at the foreigners’ police and the municipality also did not provide the right information at the time. The rules are very strict. They judge you as a number and do not think about your background. But I am not going to accept that I made a mistake from which they will not let me recover.’

Because she is a member of the student council at the moment, it was easy for Yun to find people who could help her. For this reason she decided to make use of her advantages and fight the case. ‘Many other international students are not in the position to fight the decision. I am, and I want to make a case for the other students as well. I want IND to look at the situation more carefully and take our background into account. We have come here to study, not to fill in forms. We are students, not criminals.’

Carry Holweg at the Education Department regularly mediates for international students and recognises the problem. ‘Fortunately the situation is much better than it was six months ago. At that time IND had a huge backlog and was almost impossible to reach on the telephone. The university has already done a lot to improve the situation for our students, but we are not in control of everything. When students receive a letter from IND saying that they may well have to leave the country, panic easily arises. Rumours spread like wildfire, but usually students can lodge a complaint and the situation is resolved.’

Yun is waiting for her case to come up, and that may take months yet. At least she can remain in the Netherlands until a decision is taken. / JH

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