Caught in a bureaucratic nightmare
How Monty was abruptly disenrolled
‘Dear Monty, the Immigration Service Desk has not received a valid Dutch residence permit card from you. Therefore, you have been deregistered from the courses below.’
Second-year arts, culture and media student Monty Slater read the email while standing in an empty classroom. He hadn’t received the Nestor announcement about his lecture being relocated at the last minute. When he scrambled to open Nestor to find out where he had to be, he saw the page was empty.
After a year of online learning, he had been banned from attending his classes. ‘I was so excited to finally meet my course mates and lecturers.’
A few weeks earlier, back home in England, Monty’s wallet, containing his residence permit, was stolen after a night out. He had spent three hours searching for it with a dead phone and no way of getting home, but to no avail.
Back in Groningen, the university’s Immigration Service Desk (ISD) requested to see a scan of his residence permit. Because of Brexit, maybe? ‘This is my second year in the Netherlands’, Monty says. ‘I had never before been asked to prove I still had my permit.’
Luckily, he had a photo of the front side, so he sent that in. A few days later a response came:
I wanted to talk to a human, but that seemed impossible
‘Dear Monty, please submit a coloured scan of your Dutch residence permit card (front and back) in PDF as soon as possible.’
‘I was worried’, Monty says, ‘since this was something I couldn’t deliver until I got a new residence permit.’
He was, of course, in the Netherlands legally. The only problem was that the physical proof was missing. ‘I tried to explain that to the ISD and the Office for Student Affairs’, he says. ‘I was convinced I would obtain a new permit within a month.’
But as he found out, standing alone in that empty classroom, he was promptly disenrolled.
According to the ISD, this isn’t their policy. ‘The missing of a person’s permit cannot and will not lead to a deregistration’, a spokesperson says. ‘Losing the card is not the same as losing your legal stay.’
Since Brexit, they have to ask British students for their Dutch residence permits, the spokesperson says, but a letter in which the Dutch immigration and naturalisation service IND has granted them their legal stay is proof enough.
Yet this was not the case for Monty. He tried to call the university’s help desk, but it was nearly impossible to reach them during their office hours.
He called again the next day without luck, so he resorted to visiting the help desk in person. But the Covid restrictions at the time made this difficult as well. When he finally managed to speak to the lady at the desk, she told him to call someone else.
Now, the person he was trying to call was unavailable. ‘Everyone knew someone else who could help me. So I would go to the next person, explain my situation for twenty minutes only for them to refer me to someone else.’
Online communication was not much easier. All of the important updates he received were from automated emails with no-reply addresses. According to Monty, the system seems to tick off boxes and when one box isn’t ticked off, it can result in a student’s disenrolment.
I considered quitting the university
Monty’s frustration mounted. He kept having to contact different people to fix what the automated system had done. ‘I wanted to talk to a human being, but that seemed impossible.’
In the meantime, he fell behind on his coursework. He had to track down readings and assignments, because he had no access to his university account. Course mates and lecturers helped him out, but he felt like a burden, piecing together other people’s notes. ‘It was like swimming up a waterfall’, he says. ‘It felt like they were actively trying to get rid of me.’
Finally, in November, the IND sent him an email, stating that if he obtained a Dutch police report, rather than the English one he had already sent them multiple times, they would accept his application for a new permit.
He did as they told him. Then they replied:
‘Dear Monty, we cannot process your application unless you state in your report that your Dutch residence permit card was stolen/lost.’
‘If they had told me months ago that all I needed to do was amend the report’, Monty says, ‘I would have done that from the beginning.’
He went back to England. Partly to amend the report, and partly because he felt like an outsider, an imposter at his own university.
Why, he asks, was he put in this position? ‘Why do I need to show a scan of my residence permit, when the IND knows I am here legally? I’m in the system.’
In early December, after the IND received his amended police report, his permit application was approved. Then they told him that simply sending one side of his permit – as he had done in the beginning – should have been enough in the first place.
Monty is still indignant about the situation. ‘It all felt so unnecessary, jumping through all these hoops. I didn’t feel any joy, just anger.’
I’m the teething issue of Brexit at the UG
And even then the nightmare hadn’t ended. Two weeks before his appointment to pick up his new residence permit, Monty was given renewed access to Nestor with the promise that he would be re-enrolled.
But only a few days later, he was denied access once again with the following message from the Office of Student Affairs:
‘Dear Monty, the ISD has informed us that you have not sent them your Dutch residence permit. This means that your registration at our university has not been completed and we will deregister you from all courses next week.’
‘That’s when I considered quitting the university’, he says.
He was only admitted back onto Nestor after he had collected his residence permit. In early March, six months after he was first asked to provide proof of his permit, he could start putting the pieces of his student life back together.
Monty is expected to resit the exams and assignments which he was restricted from sitting last semester. But he still has his regular courses and a thesis to write in his third year. He’s currently trying to sort out his resits in a way that would limit his workload for next year. ‘But from the looks of it, that won’t be possible.’
After losing out on a semester’s worth of on-campus classes, Monty feels isolated, he says. He has missed out on a crucial bonding period. ‘While everyone already knows each other, I’m going back to classes as the guy who constantly begged for readings.’
No one who had the power to help properly sat down with him to take on his case’, he says. ‘And someone should have.’ It was not his fault, he feels, and a situation like this is rare enough. ‘I’m the teething issue of Brexit at the UG. The university needs to man the line and prevent something like this from happening again.’
The Immigration Service Desk declined to comment specifically on Monty’s case, citing privacy reasons. The Office of Student Affairs didn’t respond to UKrant’s questions.