Brexit: what UK ELT educators need to know and do

Last Updated 21 August 2019

The UK's new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has appointed an entirely new Government and he and his Cabinet are suggesting a different approach to immigration after Brexit than their predecessors.

This week, Home Secretary Priti Patel was reported as saying she wants freedom of movement to end with Brexit on Thursday 31 October, rather than after the planned transition period in December 2020. If this becomes law staff and students could enter the UK as they do now until Thursday 31 October, but might need to carry documentation about their status if they subsequently travelled from the UK. 

In July, Mr Johnson made it clear he was not pursuing the previous target of reducing net migration to below 100,000, and told Parliament that he wanted to change the immigration system to an Australian-style points-based system. He has said that he believes in the benefits of migration to the UK, and is asking the Migration Advisory Committee to review the Australian point-based system as the first step in "a radical rewriting" of the UK's immigration system. 

Until any new direction of travel is clarified, the Immigration White Paper, published by Theresa May's Government, remains policy.

It makes it clear that in the future EEA travellers will not get any special treatment, but that there will be no cap on student numbers and entry to the UK should be a straightforward process for most.

We believe the short term study visa route (six and 11 months) will remain part of the immigration system so most members will not need to apply to become Tier 4 sponsors. We are working to ensure that the UK Government is fully aware of the particular needs of our industry.

We asked Paul Jeffrey, the Home Office's head of student migration policy, about their awareness of the ELT industry at a public event in February, and he confirmed what he had told us in private.

He said: "In terms of recognising the sheer numbers and differing issues, we know that a couple of hundred thousand European students come on ID cards and they are mainly are short term students. We know there are slightly different problems there.

"It is a sector we don't want to see damaged by this. Generally speaking Brexit is going to have some impact but we are on that, and working closely with English UK and others to see what we can do to help. We are going to have bespoke forums on short term study."

We are actively attending meetings and events and lobbying on the White Paper on behalf of our members, and will shortly advise on how you can take part in this.

We will update this page when there are changes.

Entering and leaving the UK after Brexit Day

From Brexit Day to late 2020

No Deal

The Government has announced a transitional period, during which anyone coming to the UK from the EU or EEA for under three months can enter as they do now. Students, workers or holidaymakers who want to come for more than three months will have to apply for European Temporary Leave to Remain, which is valid for three years. Anyone driving to the UK will need to have a green card or proof of insurance.


The Withdrawal Agreement includes an implementation period until December 2020, during which time all travel arrangements remain as they are now.

The right to work

Whether the UK leaves with a deal or no deal, EU, EEA and Swiss nationals arriving between Brexit Day and December 2020 will be allowed to work during their stay in the UK.

From 2021

  • The Immigration White Paper proposal says all inbound EU learners will have to apply for an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) before they arrange to travel. This is modelled on the US ESTA and mirrors the EU's proposed ETIAS, and the Government says it will be simple and low-cost.
  • On arrival, students will be given a short-term study visa in the same way as non-visa nationals are currently.
  • Expansion of the Youth Mobility Scheme is under consideration. This would provide a route for young adult learners coming from the EU.

ID cards

Travelling on ID cards will be phased out after Brexit as part of the Government's policy of ensuring that everyone entering the UK is treated in the same way. The Government's no-deal information says: "Until 31 December 2020, EU citizens will be able to enter the UK by showing either a valid national identity card or a passport."

Travel from the UK

If there is no deal, EU staff and students who travel overseas and return to the UK after Brexit Day risk getting a three-month stamp in their passports on their return which could cause problems later.

Pat Saini of Pennington Manches solicitors advises ELT centres to:

  • Identify those students and staff
  • Find out if they have holiday plans
  • Before departure, issue them with letters on headed notepaper explaining to Border staff that they entered the UK before Brexit Day and should not have a three-month stamp in their passport on their return.

What action should you take now?

  • 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 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 Brexit Day, ensure they get a letter from you on headed notepaper outlining their status so that they do not get a three-month entry stamp in their passport on return.
  • Read any relevant Government no-deal plans (see links below)

Potential no-deal issues

Teaching qualifications

Currently, EU, EEA, EFTA and Swiss-qualified teachers can have their professional status and qualifications considered for the award of Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) in England. Those recognised before Brexit day will retain that right whether or not there is a deal. If there is a deal, the UK will "seek to ensure" that these arrangements continue: if there is not, reciprocal recognition will cease to apply.

Erasmus +

If the UK leaves with a deal, participation in Erasmus+ is guaranteed until the end of the cycle in 2020, and funding available for those programmes that extend beyond 2020.

If the UK leaves without a deal, the Government intends to be in a position to ensure that the UK continues to participate in Erasmus+ programmes and funding remains available until the end of 2020.

Government no-deal planning

Opportunities to make a success of Brexit

Although the loss of freedom of movement will undoubtedly have an impact on our industry, in the short term at least, we are positive about a couple of developments. These are the imminent launch of an international education strategy, and the development of a new immigration regime.

English UK has been assured that the Home Office understands the importance of the ELT industry to the UK, that they do not wish to damage it, and that they will set up a "bespoke" forum to discuss our specific immigration needs as part of the White Paper discussions.

We will be encouraging members to lobby with us on the Immigration White Paper shortly, and there is likely to be an interactive session on this at our Annual Conference in May. Remember, every English UK member gets a free place - have you booked yours yet?

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