Soas research assistant claims bias in visa decision

The US national campaigned for the rights of cleaners while he studied for a PhD at Soas, University of London.

The institution said that it was investigating the situation but refuted claims that senior management interfered in the decision against sponsorship.

Jason Moyer-Lee applied for a graduate entrepreneur visa earlier this year to enable him to stay in the UK when his student visa expired at the end of 2014. He says he has been worked for Soas on a zero-hours basis since he was awarded his PhD in 2013, although the last time he said he was asked to work was several months ago.

The visa scheme offers recent graduates from outside the European Union with a genuine and credible business idea the chance to be sponsored by their university for an application to remain in the UK. Dr Moyer-Lee’s idea was to set up a consultancy for organisations wanting to start grassroots campaigns and support other trade union activities.

The application was rejected in October because the Soas awarding panel felt that his idea was not sustainable in the long term while it also had concerns over potential clients, competitors and the lack of entrepreneurial skills.

Dr Moyer-Lee asked for further feedback which prompted an email exchange – seen by Times Higher Education – with Claire Renwick, the student enterprise manager at Soas.

In an email dated 21 October, Ms Renwick says: “The only other concern that was raised about your application was the potential damage to Soas if we are supporting a business that is helping campaigns that may cause problems for the school such as Justice for Cleaners which you mentioned.”

Dr Moyer-Lee reworked his application to address the feedback and submitted it to the panel in early November. Initial feedback on the second application from Ms Renwick stated that she would recommend endorsing Dr Moyer-Lee for sponsorship to the rest of the panel, according to an email quoted by Dr Moyer-Lee in a document summarising his case.

But the second application was also rejected and Dr Moyer-Lee is appealing the decision.

He believes that senior management put pressure on the four-strong panel, which included Ms Renwick, to reject the second application.

“I was told by one of them that the student enterprise manager has never had an endorsement rejected before,” he said.

In a statement Soas said: “Registrar Laura Gibbs is conducting an investigation into the process that led up to the rejection of Dr Moyer-Lee’s application…The School refutes absolutely the claim that any member of the four-person panel assessing his application was ‘acting on behalf of, or with direct orders from, senior Soas management’ as it is clear that no member of Soas senior management outside the four-person panel was consulted about or even aware of his visa application.”

Ms Gibbs said: “I am investigating the concerns he has raised, both about the process as well as his allegation of political bias…I assure him and the entire Soas community that I will act fairly and swiftly on my findings.”

Shreya Paudel, international students officer at the National Union of Students, said: “If Jason is not sponsored for his visa because of his political activism, it is a worrying situation and points towards the structural barriers placed against international students by the system.”