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UK announces new flexibility for short-term visas; ELT sector sets out plan to kickstart recovery

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The British government will extend additional flexibility for short-term studies under its post-Brexit immigration system
  • Meanwhile, the UK’s ELT sector is reporting dramatic revenue and job losses for 2020 and is calling for targeted government action to help the industry recover through 2021

After a period of extended lobbying by English UK and other stakeholder organizations, the UK Home Office has increased visa flexibility for those coming to the UK for six months or less.

As of December 2020, the current short-term study visa (STSV) route will be closed as part of the UK’s transition out of the European Union and the introduction of a new points-based immigration system. Indeed, all new arrivals to the UK from 1 January 2021 onward will need a visa to visit, work, or study in the country.

With the winding up of the STSV route, however, the Home Office is introducing new flexibility in that all travellers, including students, may enter on the same type of visitor’s visa. This means in effect that anyone holding a visitor visa may now study for up to six months in the UK.

Some restrictions apply. English language courses, for example, must be undertaken with an accredited ELT centre, and further details will be forthcoming from the Home Office as the government continues to finalise the UK’s post-Brexit system.

There is no question, however, that this is a welcome development for the country’s ELT sector as it works to recover from the impact of the pandemic the year.

“This is really positive news for our industry and follows extensive lobbying by English UK and other sector bodies,” said English UK Interim Chief Executive Jodie Gray. “The Home Office sees this as a concession to support the ELT industry at this challenging time while acknowledging that ELT students often behave like other tourists. We expect this to make the system much simpler for students who get a taste for taking more courses and for the member centres which teach them.”

Kickstarting sector recovery

English UK has also just released a 14-point plan to set out how the British government can help “Kickstart UK ELT after COVID-19”.

The recovery strategy is built around three pillars: business support for language schools, visa policies targeted for the sector, and new initiatives to market the UK as a language study destination.

The plan quotes a 1 July statement by Exports Minister Graham Stuart, who said in the House of Commons that, “English language teaching plays a key role in underpinning the UK’s wider education system by helping unlock the door for thousands of overseas students to courses at British universities and further education establishments. ELT is not only valuable in itself, but is a pipeline to the broader, wider educational offer.”

The importance of the recovery plan can be weighed against the pandemic’s impacts on British ELT, which English UK estimates as more than half a billion pounds through the first three quarters of 2020. Based on a recent member survey, the association reports as well that “almost all” seasonal staff (which equates to roughly half of all sector employees) have been released. Roughly four in ten employees have been furloughed while another 10% have had adjustments to salary or working hours. This means that less than 10% are working as usual at this point.

Those figures are especially staggering given the pre-pandemic economic impact of the sector, which is estimated at £1.4 billion with support for more than 35,000 jobs throughout the UK.

“UK ELT was hit earlier than other sectors and we only expect a moderate level of recovery in confidence among student travellers and their families in 2021,” says the recovery plan report. “We are also facing potential disruption – the perfect storm – from the unintended consequences of [post-Brexit] immigration regulations. Our asks of Government are focussed and targeted. They will help UK ELT to weather this storm, kickstart recovery, and retain our position as the number one global destination for students to learn English.”

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