The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional, and sometimes international. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore Nigerian experiences while living abroad.
To gain nuance on the trending topic of the UK’s restriction on family relocating with international postgraduate students, we interviewed a 25-year-old Nigerian postgraduate student who resides with her husband in Aberdeen, Scotland, the UK’s 2nd largest country.
She speaks of her motivations for relocating, getting her student visa, registering her husband as her accompanying person, and navigating life with their current visa status.
What was your motivation for moving to Scotland?
I’d say that the act of “Japa,” or relocating to another country, has been my dream for as long as I can remember.
I’ve always loved the atmosphere and culture of Caucasians. Also, getting a postgraduate degree has always been on my bucket list, and that was a key priority in my mind.
The UK had the best offers for me regarding tuition fees, and my school (the University of Aberdeen) is currently ranked as one of the best schools in the UK.
Nigeria was also getting very difficult with issues of fuel scarcity, frequently interrupted power supply, etc., which spurred me to take action on my Japa plans.
When did you start the process?
I applied for admission in October 2022, shortly after my wedding in June 2022. Towards the beginning of November, I had gotten my entry, and by 2nd week of December, we had our visa.
By December 31, we had left the country for Scotland.
Wow, that was fast! Was anything done to hasten the process?
No, not really. The significant steps are to get admission from your institution and stack your proof of funds for 28 days.
Then they gave us our university’s CAS (Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies). However, every school has its own admissions process. Some schools may need you to send a deposit (maybe £2k – £4k) before they give the CAS. And it’s not something you can do without, as you’d need it for your student visa application.
However, my school didn’t request the deposit, so I didn’t pay. I did get a priority visa, though.
What’s the difference between a priority visa and a regular one?
A priority UK visa takes five working days to process and costs more (£500 or N284,342), while a regular visa takes a maximum of 21 days to be processed, depending on when you apply.
Usually, there are peak visa periods, e.g., December, because of students going in January.
September and October are usually very busy and take longer processing times. However, if it’s not a peak season like April/May, no one would advise you to get a priority visa because it will likely take less than five working days.
Nice! How did your husband apply for his visa?
He applied as an [accompagnating person] under me.
How does that work?
When I applied for admission, I informed the school that I’d be bringing my husband in as a matter of courtesy.
However, the family issue applies when you’re applying for a visa. When filling out the form online, one of the first questions asked is if you have a spouse or children legally recognised under the law.
You fill out the form separately for each person, and since it was just my husband, I filled out only one. You must also ensure that your Proof of Funds covers living expenses for yourself and your family members and your school fees.
For a student, there are two types of proof of funds. If you go to school in London, you’d need to show up to £1,334 (or N758,777) and £1,023 (N104,419) if you go outside London. And both are for if you’re coming alone.
If you’re coming with a family member, you must show £680 (or N386,706) each. Proof of funds is also needed for the duration of your course and your family member’s monthly living expenses.
It will be higher or lower depending on where you live in the UK. For instance, if you live outside London, your proof of funds would be much cheaper than for someone living in London.
It’s not complicated at all.
Great. How has Scotland been for you in terms of advantages and challenges?
There are a lot of advantages here, especially in terms of schooling. When you go to a well-known university with the best learning environment, you tend to want to excel at your studies so that it won’t be in vain.
It has been fantastic for my husband and me in terms of everyday life. People just smile at you and greet you when you pass by. Things are not overly expensive at grocery stores. You’re just getting what you paid for. One is not worried about unstable power or fuel scarcity. It’s been great for us so far.
For challenges, what I can think of so far is the fact that we’ve not had a lot of time to save pounds as new immigrants. It’s easy for us to believe we’ve spent much money on certain things. But we’ve realised that older families, even Nigerians, have lots of money saved up in pounds. We are getting there anyway.
Is there anything else you’re yet to figure out as a new immigrant?
Well, maybe just driving. I have to learn to drive on the other side of the road. Plus, unlike Nigeria, they’re very law-abiding regarding road safety. There are also cameras at every stop, so whatever you do, they’re watching you.
Are there any rules and regulations that restrict your spouse?
There are just 3: no access to public funds, one can’t be a sportsman (I have any clue why), and you can’t practise medicine if you’re still in training except if you have a degree from a UK institution.
So in terms of public funds, they can’t access welfare or unemployment funds.
In cases of an accident or injury, there is a hospital bill called the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS). This is a UK health charge that non–Europe Economic Area (or EEA) immigrants must pay as part of the immigrant application process. It was paid for while you paid for your visa fee.
The IHS fee fully covers hospital bills.
Based on your understanding, are there any downsides to being an accompanying person in the UK?
Honestly, my husband hasn’t had any so far. Once you’re here, you’re here. People even respect that you had to spend a lot of money to leave your country.
We’ve told people of our migration story in church, and they’re always amazed and like, “Wow, you guys must have been doing very well in your country”, and so on, for you to afford what you pay for.
Even if one is a driver, they treat the person with the same respect as a mayor. The people here are hot and friendly.
Are there any obligations for families that come over with post-grads?
Yes. Firstly, they have to pay tax. As far as they’re working, they have to be unlike students. Students are limited to 20 hours per week, so it doesn’t interfere with studies, but there’s no time limit for families.
Would you say that tax laws are lenient for families?
Well, yes. So there are two types of tax—the income tax and the council tax. Income tax is a percentage of the salary, while council tax must be paid whether you have a job.
You’d usually pay council tax for utilities such as water, waste disposal, etc.
Speaking from our experience, my husband has been lucky because he found a job in tech shortly before we relocated. But even if he didn’t, they don’t impose council tax returns immediately. We’ve been in the UK for five months, and only last month did they start giving us council tax. Some cities process these things slower or faster than others.
Would you say that jobs are readily accessible for post-grads and their families?
It depends on the location. It is easier to find jobs in places like Edinburgh than in Aberdeen. It’s just like comparing the job opportunities volume between Lagos and Abeokuta.
Everyone can get jobs; depending on location and your skill set, it may take some time.
What do you think of the current visa ban for post-graduate student families?
I’ve heard that and don’t think it’s that way. Over time, the UK has habitually closed its borders for a while and then opened them back. Their visa processing is faster than in places like the US or Canada.
The UK’s land mass is comparatively smaller, so they must be careful. But there will always be a need for international students. From what I’ve been hearing, most universities in the UK cannot run without international students because that’s where the bulk of the money comes from.
If they decide to make this ban permanent, it will affect universities because it will discourage international students from applying to their universities. And that would mean a lack of money for them.
This video from Scottish UK Parliament member Carol Monoghan proves this point. I can understand why it’s happening, though, because you can see Nigerian postgraduate students with courses of 1 year bringing 5-6 family members. It makes one raise eyebrows.
All the same, even though I understand their motivations because of the population explosion, I am not in support of this ban. I’ve been on the other side of the fence regarding making relocation plans, and I know how frustrating it can be to change those plans and re-strategize from scratch. Plus, who wouldn’t like to have their loved ones close to them? It’s not easy.
Have you heard from postgraduate aspirants back home? How do they feel?
Well, everywhere is hot in that regard. I know some of them; the whole situation has made them livid. It has forced people to re-strategize all over again. I am incredibly grateful to God that my husband and I made it out when we did; if not…
If not, indeed. Have you watched the Tiamiyu video? What are your opinions on it?
One thing we need to know about the UK is that they’re very brilliant. They know that people are taking advantage of the study route, but they wouldn’t want to say that for fear of being racist. He just said what he wasn’t supposed to say.
But do you think his actions would affect students already in the UK?
I don’t think so. I think they already know that this is what Nigerians are doing. The decision was already made before they posted the guy’s interview.
But from the Scottish MP’s video, it sounds like not all parties are still on board, and it’s still a matter of debate. Let’s watch and see.
How can your husband then upgrade their visa in the future?
So it depends, as there are several routes. I could either apply for a graduate visa after I graduate for two years, or any of us can get a sponsored job. These processes don’t take time at all.
Do you and your husband ever see yourselves relocating back to Nigeria?
Honestly, no. Maybe I can revisit Nigeria for “Detty December” or other special occasions, but I don’t want to limit myself to just the UK.
My husband and I would love to explore other countries soon.