A student from Amsterdam University has been blocked from entering the UK for an academic conference, in what has been branded unlawful and an “entirely irrational” decision that undermines Britain as a driver of academic research.
Nadza Dzinalija, a Bosnian national, was told she could not come to the UK for six days to attend an event organised by Glasgow University’s psychology department because immigration officials were “not satisfied” she would leave at the end of her stay.
The 21-year-old, who is currently studying for a psychology masters at the University of Amsterdam after achieving a distinction in her undergraduate degree, had provided the Home Office with proof of her return flight back to Amsterdam on 29 October.
But immigration officials said that because her student visa in the Netherlands was set to expire in December, they did not believe she would “comply with any restrictions placed on [her] by a UK visa regime”.
Ms Dzinalija submitted an application to extend her student visa in the Netherlands in September and is waiting for a decision, which legal experts said there was no reason would be refused.
Lawyers and academics said the fact the Home Office had refused the student’s visa on the assumption she would abandon her studies and try to remain in the UK illegally was both “unlawful” and “nonsensical”.
Speaking to The Independent, Ms Dzinalija, who travelled to Australia for an exchange last year with no visa issues, said: “I was really surprised. I’ve applied for a lot of visas before and this is the first time I’ve had this experience. I’m bitterly disappointed that I can’t attend [the conference].
“I do feel that the decision wasn’t well considered. I didn’t find the letter to be rude, but I was surprised at the outcome, and the fact that there’s no right of appeal. If I could have requested a review of the decision I think they would have reconsidered.”
The Bosnian national said she was also concerned the refusal could make it difficult to get a UK visa in the future, saying: “I feel that after you’ve been refused once, it’s very easy for immigration officers to use this against you. I just hope this doesn’t happen.”
Immigration barrister Jan Doerfel said the refusal of the visa for Ms Dzinalija was entirely irrational.
“Nadza is a first year masters student in a two-year programme at one of the most prestigious universities in the Netherlands,” he said.
“For the Home Office refuse her visa on the basis of an assumption that she would abandon her studies in the Netherlands and use an academic exchange with the University of Glasgow as a pretext to enter the UK unlawfully and live here in the hostile environment is not only unlawful but also deeply insulting to Nadza’s integrity.
“It furthermore portrays a feeling of superiority and arrogance not only towards applicants’ actual life choices but also towards our European neighbours as well as an insensitivity towards needs of academic institutions in this country which aim to keep the UK attractive and at the cutting edge of scientific research.”
Niamh Stack, Psychology Professor at Glasgow University, who organised the conference, said her first response to hearing about the denied visa was utter disbelief.
“These students are already on a highly regarded master’s programme at an excellent institution in the Netherlands," she said. "They provided clear evidence of their intent to return and their financial stability.
“The idea that they would abandon these career paths and established lives in the Netherlands where they have visas to live and study just to stay in the UK was nonsensical.”
Lampros Bisdounis, a psychology student at the University of Amsterdam and Glasgow University alumni, said: “There was no precedent to believe that Nadza would abandon her status as a Dutch resident and full-time student in a reputable two-year masters programme simply to move to the UK.
“But this decision also seemed plainly counterintuitive. The UK would be nothing but lucky to have people like Nadza emigrate into country as we have all dedicated our lives to improving our communities and raising awareness about mental health.
“The purpose of this visit is to discuss professional partnerships and exchange ideas about the implementation of open research practices. Ironically though, the UK closed the door to one of our students.”
A Home Office spokesperson said it was currently reviewing the case. “All visa applications are considered in line with the immigration rules and on the basis of the evidence provided,” the spokesperson said.
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