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Brexit will not affect EU students in 2020

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Brexit will almost certainly happen on 31 January; what is less certain is whether a trade deal between the UK and EU will be agreed upon during the 2020 transition period
  • Through December 2020, EU students can continue to come to the UK as usual with “home fee” status ensured for higher education students for the duration of their studies
  • From 2021 on, much will depend on the successful negotiation of a new trade deal between the UK and EU, and on new immigration scheme that will be brought forward by the British government

Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party won a large majority in the UK’s December 2019 general election. That victory has now paved the way for Britain to exit the European Union, and Brexit is almost certain to occur on 31 January.

The move will usher in a transition period that will last till the end of 2020. This transition phase is meant to provide time for the UK and EU to arrive at a trade deal and an arrangement for how security and law enforcement will be handled. As BBC News explains, “During this period the UK will effectively remain in the EU’s customs union and single market – but will be outside the political institutions and there will be no British members of the European Parliament.”

This means that, as of January 2021, the UK’s relationship with the EU will either be governed by a new trade deal or Britain will exit at that point without a deal in place. Prime Minister Johnson has said that the UK will not pursue an extension of the transition phase if a new trade deal is not negotiated by the December 2020 deadline.

No changes for students in 2020

One certainty – according to the Prime Minister – is that the UK will leave the single-market structure of the EU, an arrangement that among other things has allowed for the visa-free movement of people across the EU and which has allowed EU citizens to study in the UK for the same fees and with the same financial supports available to domestic students.

How will it all affect EU students coming to the UK to study? The immediate answer is that everything will remain the same until the end of 2020. Student mobility from that point on will be governed by a new immigration scheme that the British government will introduce later this year.

The details of this new immigration scheme have not been announced, but English UK notes that current government plans have it that all travellers to the UK will require a passport (as opposed to the current movement provisions that allow visitors from the EU to enter the UK with an ID card).

At the same time, English UK continues to advocate for passport-free travel for EU citizens after 2020. In its manifesto for the recent general election, for example, the association argues, “EU nationals often do not have passports as they can travel widely on ID cards. This is particularly true of teenagers. More than half of ELT students are 18 and under, and most come for short summer courses of under a fortnight as part of a group. The extra costs of getting a passport for one short holiday risks damaging this valuable market.”

The key point for the moment, as English UK explains, is that, “The UK’s decision to leave the European Union has not yet affected entry requirements for international students. Until the end of December 2020, agents can continue to send EU students to study in the UK as usual.”

Meanwhile, Universities UK highlights that the government has confirmed that “EU students starting a course in 2020/21 or before will be eligible for home fee status/financial support, and that this will apply for the duration of these students’ courses.” The fee status for higher education students commencing their programmes in 2021 or later has not yet been determined.

Guidance for those already in the UK

EU citizens who are living in the UK as of 31 December 2020 can still apply for the EU Settlement Scheme and will be given either settled status or pre-settled status (depending on whether they have lived in the UK for more than five years or less than five years). Those granted settled status can live, work and study in the UK for as long as desired. Those granted pre-settled status will be allowed to stay in the UK until they meet the five-year continuous residency requirement to apply for settled status.

Any application for settled or pre-settled status will need to be filed by 20 June 2021. Immigration status after that point will be determined by the new immigration scheme that the British government will introduce later this year.

Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020

As for Erasmus+, the massive EU mobility programme that has sent millions of European students around their continent for study abroad experiences:

  • All will proceed as usual through 2020 since the UK will still be contributing funds to the EU.
  • There is currently no agreement in place to provide for the UK’s continued participation in Erasmus+ from 2021 on.

Regarding the EU’s Horizon 2020 collaborative research programme, Universities UK reports that:

  • “UK-based researchers can bid for and participate in all Horizon 2020 calls issued by 31 December 2020 (and lead consortia), with any successful grants covered in full (via the EU budget) for the duration of the project.
  • UK universities can continue to bid for Erasmus+ until the end of the programme in 2020. This means staff and students can complete mobility periods, and receive funding, through the Erasmus+ programme for the full length of the project.”

Group travel scheme remains until 2021

The List of Travellers scheme will continue until at least 2021, says English UK. “Students who are visa nationals but travelling as part of a group of EEA students will continue to be able to travel without a visa if they are listed on the form.”

For additional background please see:


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