Brexit: what UK ELT educators need to know and do

Last updated: 21 February 2020

What UK English language centres need to know and do about Brexit

The UK has entered a transition period from leaving the EU and until the end of the year travel between the EU and the UK continues as normal.

The main points of the points-based immigration system which will operate from 1 January 2021 has been announced by the Government and in stakeholder briefings to English UK. We expect to get more information soon.

We will continue to keep members informed on these pages and with our regular public affairs newsletters. 


The new immigration points-based system:
what ELT centres need to know

General migration

  • Free movement is ending and all students, tourists and workers coming from anywhere outside the UK and Ireland for more than six months will need visas from 1 January 2021. The UK will launch a points-based system on that date which is designed to deny access to UK employment for most lower-skilled workers earning below a certain threshold. The system will launch for applications from autumn 2020.
  • The new system does not have a temporary work route but it is possible that the youth mobility scheme may be extended beyond the current 8 countries as part of trade negotiations. The points-based system will continue to develop after January 2021.
  • EU migrants will be non-visa nationals.
  • There are plans for the system to go live for applications from autumn 2020. EU applicants will get electronic visas and can enter through e-gates but a "mixed economy" will remain for migrants from the rest of the world.
  • ID card travel will be phased out and proposals on how this will be done will be published shortly.

Student migration

  • All EU/EEA and non-EU students will need a Tier 4 visa if they wish to study for longer than on one of the short-term study visa routes. They will achieve the required points if they can demonstrate that they have an offer from an approved educational institution, speak English and are able to support themselves during their studies in the UK. EU and EEA Tier 4 applicants will not need to provide fingerprints, will be able to upload their photo online, and will continue to be able to enter via e-gates.
  • The 11-month short-term study (STS)  visa will stay as it is now, say Home Office officials.
  • The six-month STS visa will also stay but the Home Office says it is currently thinking about whether it should remain separate from the visitor route
  • English language and genuine student requirements remain the same, although the Home Office is investigating whether it can "refine and improve" the genuine student requirements.
  • In-country visa switching: the Home Office is looking at a possible relaxation of the rules on non-work routes to give more flexibility
  • The Home Office says it wants to increase student numbers and the target of 600,000 in the International Education Strategy remains.

 Staff migration

  • The salary threshold will drop to £25,600, and 30 per cent lower for new entrants. Pro-rata salaries will not be accepted and there are no regional variations.
  • Required skills levels for migrant workers drop from RQF6 (graduate) to RQF3 (roughly A-level or equivalent)
  • The Migration Advisory Committee will continue to keep a Shortage Occupations List. English UK will continue to monitor the situation around ELT centre staff and make representations as necessary.

Points-based system: what ELT centres need to do now

  1. Centres who want to hire international staff will need to become Tier 2 sponsors: the Home Office suggests starting that process quickly
  2. Centres may also need to become Tier 4 sponsors: again, it's a good idea to start the application process now
  3. Keep EU-based agents and partners informed about changes to immigration rules for the UK. After 1 January 2021 all students will need a short-term study or T4 visa and ID card travel is being phased out. 
  4. Consider ways in which you can get summer staff once free movement ends, perhaps by subsidising training on condition of employment.

What has English UK been doing to help members prepare for Brexit and to make sure we get the best deal for our industry?

We used the Government's Brexit Readiness Fund to run four very successful training days, Get Brexit-ready, for the sector. Read the main points below, with links to full presentations/slides/stories on our website.

We attended the Home Office Education Advisory Group, the DIT/DfE Education Advisory Group and the BETA Youth Industry Seminar

  • The Home Office Education Advisory Group meeting included an encouraging discussion on short term study, in which officials acknowledged that a more detailed consultation was needed, recognised the importance of using accredited organisations and appeared to agree that there would be some form of short term study route. With other education organisations, we pushed for a more generous time limit for short term study and removal of the 30 day rule.
  • The DIT/DfE Education Advisory Group meeting: with other members of the committee, we were able to discuss how the different sectors of UK education work together, and that ELT is an important and universal part of this.
  • The BETA Youth Industry Seminar included updates on legal aspects of Brexit affecting businesses – see below for details.

Get Brexit-ready: main points from our training days for UK ELT

Our Get Brexit-ready sessions in four UK cities were packed with advice and information for members: slides, main points and video will soon be available.

Agents and markets

Bonard, English UK's insight partner, surveyed almost 200 agents about Brexit and how it might affect where they chose to send students. Patrik Pavlacic, research director, said it was vital for member centres and others in the industry to keep agents informed: "Communication is important – when we surveyed agents it became obvious to us that the main concern was lack of information and uncertainty and people not being driven by facts. It's important to have these conversations and key messages aligned across the board."

Language schools should use English UK data to diversify – but not just because of Brexit. "If was a school I would not diversify because of Brexit but because of the numbers. EU markets are in decline," Patrik said. "Looking into the future, what are the countries that will help you offset those numbers, particularly in student weeks? It's very important to make sure the messaging is right and I also want to encourage you to leverage the market information you have at your hands – it's really critical to reassess multiple times in the year if you have right market and the right pricing and are always looking out for new opportunities. The world is a very dynamic place and doing it once a year is really dangerous."


Immigration lawyer Pat Saini of Penningtons Manches Cooper reassured delegates that whether there is a deal or not, EU students can continue to enter the UK as they do now until 31 December 2020.

The most recent advice from the Government is that:

ID cards will be valid for UK entry until the Government announces they are being phased out. They will give plenty of notice of this. ID cards will remain valid until the end of 2025 for EU nationals who moved to the UK before Brexit. EEA and Swiss nationals do not need to have six months' validity on their passports.


Personal data can move as it does now until the end of the transition period. Read more on the ICO website.

UK ELT and Erasmus+

Erasmus + funding is guaranteed until the end of the 2020-21 academic year and English UK has written to the Department for Education to ask them to remind national funding agencies in the EU of this.

The UK government has said it is interested in joining the next Erasmus period, running from 2021 to 2027.

ELT business issues and Brexit

Travlaw partner Luke Golding updated the BETA Youth Industry seminar about business issues which might be affected by Brexit. They included:

  • Credit and debit card surcharges After Brexit if you sell to EEA consumers you may be able to include a small surcharge to cover costs.
  • Currency Some experts predict the £ may slump if there's no deal. If so, are commercial contracts still viable? If using package travel regulations there are surcharge provisions in place of up to eight per cent.
  • Commercial contracts Correct any references to EU law, and look at agreements with EU suppliers to insert standard contractual clauses (SCC). Check contracts for post-Brexit viability if there's a big currency swing – start looking at how you could exit plus termination provisions. When signing new contracts, decide whether you need more favourable termination provisions.
  • Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements law – UK businesses which sell packages through the EU can rely on ATOL and similar legislation to protect customers if there's a problem. This won't apply under Brexit: options are to set up a new EU hub for your business to put yourself back in the current position, or obtain financial protection on a country-by country basis. Under the same regulations, an agent selling a package on behalf of a non-EEA organiser has to show the organisation has financial protection place and accept responsibility for their reliability and performance.

What action should you take?

  • Inform and reassure agents, students and parents that ID card travel is legal until the end of 2020. See what agents need to know and do.
  • Prepare your business for the new immigration system: will you need to be a Tier 2 or Tier 4 sponsor? If so, start working on it now. Consider how you will migrate students to travelling on passports and with ETAs, and start working with your agents on this.
  • If you have EU students or staff who have not applied for UK settlement and travel overseas and return to the UK after 31 January, ensure they get a letter from you on headed notepaper outlining their status.
  • Check contracts for termination clauses and prepare to include clauses to ensure data transfer from the EU is GDPR-compliant.
  • Risk-assess your business: where do your students come from? Do you need to diversify? Use English UK data including the Student Statistics and QUIC executive summaries and if you're not a QUIC member consider joining for 2020.
  • Sign up for English UK Brexit updates.

Travel arrangements 


  • EEA nationals will be able to study, live and work in the UK as now, until 31 December 2020
  • There is no need to apply for permission to remain in the UK within three months of arriving
  • The European Leave to Remain is now called the Euro TLR; EEA nationals who arrive after Brexit will have make an application if they intend to stay in the UK after 31 December 2020. Euro TLR is valid for up to 36 months.
  • ID cards remain valid as a travel document but will be phased out during 2020. No further information is available at this time. EHIC cards remain valid and continue to offer access to free healthcare – see further information on this below.
  • The List of Travellers scheme will continue until at least 2021. 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.

European Health Insurance Cards after Brexit

Students can continue to use their EHIC or Provisional Replacement Card (PRC) to access free NHS healthcare if they began a course of education or training in England before 31 January and this applies until the end of their course.

Students' EHICs may not be valid if they started their education or training in England after the UK leaves the EU. They should buy insurance to cover their healthcare as they would if visiting another non-EU country. This would not affect the rights of individuals covered by the citizens' rights agreements with Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

EEA and Swiss citizens and family members resident in the UK before Brexit who successfully apply for the EU Settlement Scheme will be able to use the NHS as they do now. EU citizen arriving in the UK after Brexit can apply for European Temporary Leave to Remain, valid for 36 months, which will allow them to access the NHS.

Useful Brexit links

General information