Zasheva works as a receptionist at a gym and has taken on more hours to try to keep her head above water financially, but she fears she is fighting a losing battle.
“At one point, I had to choose between food and transport,” she said.
Zasheva is surviving thanks to the goodwill of friends, to whom she already owes £600, and she is “very sad” that she can no longer send the £100 a month home to help her parents.
– ‘They don’t want us’ –
Liliana Gabor, a Romanian student at London’s ICON College, said she believes the cutbacks are aimed at discouraging students from continuing their studies.
“I don’t think they want us,” she said.
In February, Bucharest asked the European Commission for “clarifications of the compliance” of the British measures with EU law and suggested it could be discriminatory vis-a-vis Romanian nationals.
Andrei Ioan Stan, the head of the British branch of the League of Romanian Students Abroad, has no doubt that students from his country and Bulgaria are being singled out.
London “only targets Romanian and Bulgarian students out of 28 nationalities”, he said. “The timing is suspicious.”
He noted that the announcement was made two months before restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians working in Britain were lifted, a move that has fuelled fears of a huge wave of new immigrants into Britain.
While these fears so far appear unfounded, immigration is set to be a big issue at European Parliament elections in May and at next year’s British general election.
Gabor, who is struggling to keep up her studies while being a single mum to a nine-year-old boy, has managed to persuade the authorities that she is eligible for her £3,000 loan.
But she worries: “I am afraid they will freeze my account again.”
Zasheva has been less fortunate after a £2,000 maintenance loan she was promised would arrive at the end of February failed to materialise.
“I am not coping at all. I can’t ask my friends for more money. I have a very important field trip at the end of the month,” she said.