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Romanian, Bulgarian students bear brunt of UK immigration crackdown

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Romanian students at the university of economics give an interview with AFP in Bucharest/AFP

Romanian students at the university of economics give an interview with AFP in Bucharest/AFP

LONDON, March 12 – Forced to choose between food and their books, Bulgarian and Romanian students in Britain are hitting back at the government’s decision to suspend their financial lifeline.

In November, London announced it was suspending living-expenses loans for around 7,500 students from the two countries.

It said there had been a “significant increase” in applications from Bulgaria and Romania — the two poorest nations in the 28-state European Union — in the past year.

“I am really upset, I rely on the money to go to university,” Stanimira Karaivanska, an environmental management student at Kingston University in south London, told AFP.

Karaivanska, from Bulgaria, was left stranded after her £2,100 ($3,515, 2,530 euros) student loan for three months was frozen.

“I had to miss some lectures because I couldn’t pay for the train and the bus,” said the 19-year-old, who cannot understand how she fails to meet the criteria having lived in Britain for seven years.

Like other students in her position, Karaivanska believes she is paying the price for a “discriminatory” decision taken by a government anxious to appear tough on immigration before European elections in May.

Ministers have since extended the measure to include students from all European Union countries, although that applies only to those enrolled at private institutions.

In contrast, all Romanian and Bulgarian students are affected regardless of the institution they attend.

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The government says it is a “precautionary measure” that will remain in place while those affected prove their eligibility for such loans.

Funding is only provided to students who have lived in Britain for at least three years and must be repaid once they start working.

Miglena Zasheva saw her monthly maintenance grant of around £500 suspended in January.

The 23-year-old Bulgarian arrived in Britain in 2010 before taking a series of badly-paid jobs picking fruit and cleaning to make ends meet.

She is now painstakingly providing the authorities with payslips, tax documents and bank statements to prove she has been in Britain for three years and is therefore eligible for the loan.

“I told them, ‘Are you kidding me?’. They told me that it was not enough,” she complained.

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