What the Brexit white paper means for EU-UK youth

The release of the Brexit white paper finally answered some questions that the public – and UK parliament – have been asking. Yet its proposed ‘special relationship’ with the EU come March 2019 has been met with severe opposition up and down the country. The paper significantly fails to map out the future of immigration in the UK – but this is to be revised and remade in a second paper this coming Autumn.

Students and young people appear to be favoured above all in the document. The absence of solutions to immigration has been filled instead with propositions to students, skilled workers, business visitors and tourists. Perhaps the UK government are finally listening to the rallying cries of British students since the demographic of Remain voters in the 2016 EU referendum were largely held by youngsters residing in student-based cities. An estimated 73% of people under 25 voted to stay in the EU and it’s clear to see why. For many years young people have benefited from internships, work experiences, study abroad schemes and exchange programmes from across the continent, greatly enriching their lives. An end to Free Movement meant restrictive, expensive and limited opportunities.

The white paper finally seeks to ease young voter concerns under the proposed ‘UK-EU Youth Mobility Scheme’, which states:

 “The UK proposes a UK-EU Youth Mobility Scheme to ensure that young people can continue to enjoy the social, cultural and educational benefits of living in each other’s countries. The UK already operates a number of youth mobility schemes with other global partners, for example with Australia and Canada, on which this could be modeled.”

What is the Youth Mobility Scheme?

The Youth Mobility Scheme is nothing new. It currently comes under the Tier 5 Visa category and benefited 41,652 youngsters in 2017 alone.

It permits young people (aged 18-30) from one of the eight qualifying non-EEA countries to benefit from UK employment, a governmental exchange programme or just a taste of UK life for up to two years. This visa is favourably unique: it requires no certification or any sponsorship requirements that the majority of UK visas find necessary. Successful applicants can migrate to the UK before even obtaining a job offer.

The catch for this visa is that it is strictly temporary. It cannot be renewed or reapplied for. It offers no permanent settlement route and it disallows any family reunification rights.

However, the UK government does allow foreign-nationals on the scheme to switch visa routes. Citizens that work in the UK on the Youth Mobility Scheme may be eligible to switch to a Tier 2 Work Visa towards the end of their two years.

Safeguarding the Youth Mobility Scheme also works in favour of young British hopefuls. UK students can benefit from this scheme in any reciprocating EU countries.

However, many critics have slandered the extension as a watered-down remodel of Free Movement. While students can benefit from each other’s universities, it comes at a price alongside some minor hassle. The requirements for applicants are:

  • They need to apply 6 months in advance
  • Pay £244 for the visa
  • Have £1,890 saved up

For those interested in long-term study over two years, the Youth Mobility Scheme would not be ideal.

Will EU Students need a Tier 4 Student Visa?

The plans going full steam ahead to withdraw from Free Movement could very well mean that EU students require a Tier 4 Student Visa. In that case, UK students will also require a visa according to the immigration laws in their chosen country.

The white paper does suggest that students could ‘travel freely’ in the future without visas, however, how the UK government plan to implement this once Free Movement has ended is unclear.

What will the tuition fees be for EU citizens?

The white paper also fails to ease anxieties over student tuition fees.

There are currently over 125,500 EU students studying in UK universities, making up around 5% of the student body entirely. These students are granted ‘Home Fee Status’ which means their tuition fees are matched to those paid by British nationals (around £9,000 per academic year).

The outcome of the EU referendum caused European student applications to surge in the UK by 10%. Europeans allegedly sought to grab a university degree in the UK out of panic: Brexit threatened to snatch opportunities away as well as cause a dramatic increase in tuition fees.

EU students feared they would no longer qualify for ‘Home Fee Status’ and would instead be met with international and ‘overseas’ prices, which can be around £12,000 to £35,000 a year according to Times Higher Education. The fees depend on the type of course and university.

Fortunately, the UK government reassured EU students earlier this year by extending ‘Home Fee Status’ into the academic years 2018/19 and 2019/20. Better still, EU students who start their course in either 2018 or 2019 will be paying ‘Home Fee Status’ every year until they graduate – even when the UK leaves the EU during their course.

What will happen to Erasmus?

Another prayer finally answered by the Brexit white paper is the continuation of the exchange and funding programme, Erasmus+, which has benefited over 3 million students. Many critics had speculated that one of the drawbacks of leaving the EU is that Erasmus would be inaccessible for British applicants since the programme is expendable for the EU member states only.

Previously, Theresa May had promised that the scheme could continue to benefit UK youngsters until 2020, yet the release of the white paper suggests negotiations are in place to continue the programme for UK students indefinitely. The move wouldn’t be entirely revolutionary since many other non-EU members hold membership to Erasmus+ (such as Iceland, Norway, Turkey, Liechtenstein and Macedonia).

Extending the Youth Mobility Scheme for EU citizens demonstrates how the UK government is committed to attracting the ‘best and brightest’ talent. Young people will continue to benefit from the prestigious platforms the UK and EU have to offer.

However, the Brexit white paper could be completely blown out of the water by the time it hits Brussels. The document lacks crucial details. There has been no proposed long-term or reciprocal deal outlined for the mobility of future students from 2020 onwards. What happens next remains totally at the mercy of further Brussels negotiations.

If the UK desires to remain a worldwide competitor in the education sector and one of the top destinations for international study, the second Brexit document scheduled for Autumn must address long-term plans.

This article has been published by Olivia Bridge, political correspondent from the Immigration Advice Service UK. 

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