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10th Jan 2024

UK confirms easing of travel rules for French school groups

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • The Home Office has published official guidance that will ease travel requirements for school groups from France
  • The new rules allow French students under the age of 18 to enter the UK using only a national identity card, when travelling as part of an official school group of five students or more
  • Peak bodies in the UK continue to campaign for an easing of travel requirements for junior students travelling from the EU, but no other such bilateral agreements are on the horizon at this point

On 28 December, the Home Office published guidelines confirming an easing of travel requirements for French school groups visiting the United Kingdom.

The move confirms a policy change that has been in the works following a March 2023 declaration from British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron. The statement by the two leaders at the time explicitly set out a shared intention to ease requirements for student travel between France and the UK.

The new rules apply to groups of five or more students, aged 18 and under, from schools registered with the French Ministry of Education. They allow that students travelling with such groups who are nationals of the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein may enter the UK with:

  • An authorisation to leave France, signed by a parent or guardian
  • A copy of their parent or guardian's identity document
  • A passport or national identity card

Group members who are nationals or other countries must have the same items, but are permitted to enter the UK only with a passport. However, they will not need a visa to enter the UK as part of a French school trip. Accompanying adults are required to travel with a passport.

A related update from the British Educational Travel Association (BETA) makes the important observation that, "This is not a pilot scheme as previously indicated. This is a permanent change to the UK’s Immigration Rules."

Needless to say, the confirmation of the easing of travel requirements for French school groups has been welcomed by the study travel sector in the UK. Junior travel from the European Union to the UK has dropped off sharply post-Brexit, and the easing of travel restrictions for school groups has been a focal point of industry lobbying in recent years.

"BETA has been campaigning for the Government to ease travel for youth and student groups of under 18’s travelling to the UK for a significant time and we are now starting to see the results," added BETA Executive Director Emma English.

"This is a positive step ahead in our campaign, however, it does not go all the way to meeting the needs of our industry. BETA has been lobbying for a Youth Group Travel Scheme that would allow supervised groups of EU nationals and residents under the age of 18 to travel to the UK for a period of up to six weeks to take part in group educational tours, school immersions, English Language Courses and organised cultural, educational, and sporting visits aimed at youth and student groups. We will push for the expansion of this scheme in France and call that it be expanded to our European neighbours.”

In a related statement, UNOSEL, an association of French agencies and travel operators, said that, "Since Brexit, school trips to the United Kingdom have been heavily impacted by tougher administrative conditions. These concerned both students of European nationality but even more strongly students of non-EU nationality.

The latter were thus regularly refused their visa, after weeks of administrative paperwork. Consequence: teachers were increasingly reluctant to organize school trips to the United Kingdom, although historically the leading destination for this type of stay.

The announcement of administrative flexibility is therefore excellent news for teachers, students and their families. They will finally be able to once again consider school trips to the United Kingdom with more peace of mind."

Campaigning will continue to establish a similar easing for youth group travel for other EU markets, but at this time no other such bilateral agreements are in place.

For additional background, please see:

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