Written by Alexis Deighton MacIntyre, PhD Student
It’s an interesting time to be a student. We’re busy trying to learn from history, analyse the bigger picture, and keep on top of our coursework and research: all worthy pursuits that demand a lot of attention and cognitive resources. In theory, our studies should figure front and centre, both in terms of what occupies our thoughts now, and where we see ourselves in the future. But in my experience—and I don’t think I’m alone here—my focus is divided. Why? It’s 2019. It feels like geopolitics are a metaphorical dumpster fire rapidly becoming eclipsed by a literal fire.
I’m concerned for the UK’s future and my home country of Canada is on the brink of its own highly divisive election, and my friends from nations like Brazil and the Philippines are stressing, too. But I’m an international student, so, what can I do?
Up until very recently, I thought that participating in demonstrations, and engaging in discussion with my UK- and EU-citizen peers comprised the extent of my participation in democracy here in London, which is to say… It doesn’t always feel like I can do much at all. This pervasive sense of helplessness, coupled with the 24/7 news cycle and the emergence of some pretty extreme views in the mainstream, can be toxic. And it’s true that for many of us, we are limited to protesting, donating, volunteering, and “voting” with our money. These are important actions and shouldn’t be underestimated, but did you know that you may be able to vote for real, too?
You're from the Commonwealth?
Yep, we of the Commonwealth have one extra channel through which to divert our rage and misery, or, perhaps just as effectively, hope and optimism. We can register to vote in the UK — with commiserations to any American, Chinese, Argentinian, and other excluded readers (please keep protesting). I lived in Cambridge and then London for several years, but though I was a registered resident of both my local councils, I was never informed that I, as a Commonwealth citizen with leave to remain in the UK, had the right to enfranchisement. Only after a chance discussion with another Canadian who has been working here for nearly a decade did I learn this. If you hold, for example, Sri Lankan or Nigerian citizenship, you are entitled to register to vote in any elections that apply to the area in which you reside, from the local to national level.
Check out the full list of eligible countries here: https://www.yourvotematters.co.uk/can-i-vote/who-can-register-to-vote.
Do I need a National Insurance card?
You don’t need a National Insurance Number to register or to vote! When you register, explain why you can’t provide it, then find out the elections contact information for your local council (e.g., Borough of Camden). You can mail them, show them, or in my case (Haringey) email them a scan of your passport as a proof of identity, which is enough to register and be added to the list of eligible voters.
As students, we are sometimes portrayed as economic deadweight, leeches on the system. International students can face xenophobia and racism on top of that. This might lead you to believe that your vote doesn’t or shouldn’t count. But students have a reciprocal and integrated role with and within society as a whole, and those of us coming from the wider world offer up the material and social investments of our home communities and governments, as well as considerable capital in the form of overseas tuition. If we work, we pay taxes, too. Oh, and I guess there’s that historical triviality of the whole, um, Empire. The point is, we all share a vested interest in the UK, and by committing to live and study here, we tie ourselves in some way to its fate. So, if you have the opportunity to help shape the UK's future, seize it by registering to vote. Then close all your news tabs and hit the books, knowing you did your part (for now).
But students have a reciprocal and integrated role with and within society as a whole.