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UK will end ID card entry for EU juniors in 2021

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Photo ID cards will no longer be accepted as of October 2021 as identity documents for European travellers entering the UK
  • Instead, Europeans will need passports to enter
  • The decision comes as a blow to the British ELT sector, whose members are particularly worried that the change will hamper enrolments from EU juniors
  • Importantly, students will still be able to enter using ID cards in the summer of 2021

As of 1 October 2021, students will no longer be able to use EU, EEA, or Swiss national ID cards to enter the UK and will require a passport, a document they will have to apply for and pay a fee to obtain. The decision is based on a determination by the UK government that ID cards are not secure enough for border control, and it comes at a time when Prime Minister Boris Johnson is warning that the country may be headed for a no-deal Brexit.

The decision is especially relevant, and concerning, for the ELT sector in the UK, which has been devastated by the effects of COVID-19. Junior students coming on short-term programmes, especially in the peak summer season, accounted for more than half (54%) of all UK ELT enrolments in 2019.

ID cards preserved for summer 2021

The removal of ID cards as permitted entry documents for students including juniors would likely have come sooner than October 2021 but for a vigorous advocacy campaign conducted by English UK. The peak body had been pushing to protect ID cards for EU juniors altogether, but their proposed amendment to the government’s Immigration Bill was debated in the House of Lords earlier this month and defeated by a small margin of only 14 votes. In a briefing on the decision, English UK said that,

“While it is disappointing not to have won the vote, the result was not wholly unexpected, and we have many other positives from the campaign, not least the high-profile support of cross-bench peers, which was picked up by the national press.”

“Our amendment to allow ID card travel for under 18s was rejected, but in response to our campaign the Government has taken into account the importance of summer 2021 for the #UKELT sector.”

More work to be done

English UK adds that it will continue to advocate for policies that will ease the burden and cost of obtaining passports for junior students,

“We are exploring other travel options to protect our juniors’ market. The Government has been adamant throughout that the best option for juniors to travel without passports would be to use collective passports, which were agreed in a 1961 Council of Europe treaty signed by up to 18 European countries. While we do not believe this is as secure as using biometric ID cards for travel, we think this could be a cost-effective and relatively simple option for many groups and will explore this further with European partners.”

Worried about Brexit

Inspired by English UK’s advocacy, a number of politicians across party lines argued against the removal of ID cards as entry documentation for junior students and warned that the ELT industry – which supports 35,000 jobs in the UK – “may not survive” the combination of Brexit and COVID-19. Writing in the Telegraph, several – including Lord Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, and crossbench peers Lord Alton and Baroness Prashar of Runnymede – noted that,

“Every year nearly 200,000 young people come to study English in the UK. The vast majority are European schoolchildren travelling with their schools and colleges using national ID cards. Rather than forcing parents to purchase passports or excluding children without them, many European schools will take their students elsewhere.”

In the debate over the Immigration Bill, Baroness Prashar presented the concerns of one ELT school to the House of Lords to illustrate the potential effect of the removal of ID cards for juniors:

“If students cannot travel using their ID cards, our groups have told us that they will not come to the UK. They will go to Ireland or Malta. This school will not be … viable without those groups and after 53 years will be forced to close.”

Views are mixed among agents as to how this will impact enrolments after fall 2021. However, there seems to be consensus that the shift to required passports is far enough in the future that there will be time to prepare students and their families.

One more blow

Even with ID cards permitted in the crucial summer season of 2021, the ELT sector in the UK just doesn’t need anything else to impede its recovery from the pandemic.

English UK estimates that the British ELT sector has already suffered the loss of more than half a billion pounds of revenue due to COVID-19. The following chart shows the staggering decline in student numbers through Q3 2020.

Number of English language students at English UK member centres, 2011–2020 (YTD September). Source English UK

Visitor visa holders can study too

Passports aside, the UK government did provide some hope for ELT providers this summer when it announced that all travellers, including students, can now 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.

English UK Interim Chief Executive Jodie Gray called the extension of the visitor’s visa to students “really positive news for our industry” and said that it should “make the system much simpler for students who get a taste for taking more courses and for the member centres which teach them.”

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