Campaign for ID card travel for EU under 18s: English UK's bill amendment debated in Lords
English UK's campaign to keep ID card travel for ELT students received support in the House of Lords in September, when our suggested amendment to the Immigration and Social Security Bill was debated.
Baroness Prashar of Runnymede kindly agreed sponsor a new clause of the Bill which would allow EEA and Swiss minors to visit the UK for up to 30 days in any calendar year. For technical reasons, she withdrew the amendment before putting it to a vote, but will be presenting a redrafted version for debate at the next reading.
The Bill will next be debated on Monday 5 October.
We are busy reaching out to Lords and MPs to build support for our campaign.
Under-18s are UK ELT's biggest market and most of these students come from Europe, travelling on their ID cards as part of organised groups accompanied by responsible adult teachers or guardians. Our research suggests that most European parents would choose to send their children to study in another country like Ireland or Malta, to avoid the trouble and expense of obtaining passports to study in the UK for two or three-week study holidays.
This is critical for the UK ELT sector, and others who rely on youth travel. It also presents a major threat to the future of language exchanges for UK school pupils. If school children from EU countries are unable to travel, outbound trips are unlikely.
Supportive lords have argued in favour of ID card travel for the ELT industry
English UK supplied four members of the House of Lords with speaking notes in favour of retaining some ID card travel after Freedom of Movement ends. Two other members of the Lords also mentioned the amendment favourably.
Arguments made in favour of the amendment were strongly biased towards the importance of ID card travel for the ELT industry and the importance of that industry to the economy of several UK towns and cities, and also included concerns that secondary school exchange trips and adventure holiday travel might also be hit if European minors can only travel to the UK on passports.
"This is an invaluable cultural and educational exchange that builds friendships and fosters good will between the UK and other nations"
Introducing her amendment, Lady Prashar said: "Last year over 150,000 European Economic Area juniors travelled to the UK for English language courses alone, many of them travelling in groups for study programmes that lasted for less than two weeks. This is an invaluable cultural and educational exchange that builds friendships and fosters good will between the UK and other nations. Most of these students currently travel on identity cards.
"A survey last year by English UK, the trade association for English schools, showed that, in 2019, 90% of under-18 EU students who came to this country did so on an identity card to study at colleges accredited by the British Council… Furthermore, if just one junior due to travel in a school exchange group is without a passport, the viability of the whole visit could be put in jeopardy. If this travel on identity cards ceases, the UK will lose out to other countries and its position as a popular destination could decline."
"Little or no border security issues or risk of abuse"
Baroness Prashar said her clause would "help to rectify the situation and sustain the UK's position as a popular destination" with the concession available only to those presenting "little or no border security issues or risk of abuse." She pointed out that EU citizens with settled status would be allowed to continue travelling on their ID cards, and that a 2019 regulation will oblige a phasing out of all non-biometric cards by 2023.
Baroness Fookes of Plymouth, a Conservative, added her support, saying: "If young people—minors—are not able to come to this country without a full passport, it is unlikely, when things return to normal, that many of them will come at all. They are far more likely to go to some other English-speaking country—one thinks immediately of the Republic of Ireland or even Malta."
She said it was "bad enough" that Covid-19 had stopped young people travelling to schools and organisation in the UK, adding: "Such organisations are in dire straits and we do not want to put some ghastly obstacle in their way as things gradually return to normal. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will look carefully at this to see if we can simply have the identity cards, which are used at the present time and are simple and easy to use. They would be using only those that are properly instituted by the various countries of the EEA and Switzerland."
"I cannot think of one reason why we would want to make it more difficult for these things to continue", Baroness Morris of Yardley
Former Labour secretary of state for education Baroness Morris of Yardley, also speaking for the amendment, said: "It is a good thing for young people to come over to learn English here or to have adventure holidays or to do an exchange… I cannot think of one reason why we would want to make it more difficult for these things to continue. The seeds that you sow in those early years, culturally and in terms of understanding, stay with you for life."
She said she thought it was an "unintended consequence" of the bill which would mean fewer parents would choose to send their children to the UK rather than other English-speaking nations. "Schools are already trying to recruit for next year and they will be put at a disadvantage because we are now putting a further barrier in the way."
"Preserving good relations with our EU neighbours is of the utmost importance", Baroness Garden of Frognal
The fourth peer speaking for the amendment, the Liberal Democrat Baroness Garden of Frognal said: "In the post-Brexit landscape, preserving good relations with our EU neighbours is of the utmost importance. Of course, freedom of movement is ending but that does not mean that we need to create unnecessary barriers to cultural exchange and destroy all the good will and soft power benefits created by school exchange visits, English language study programmes, sports, culture, leisure holidays and the like.
"I can certainly attest to the important educational role played by school exchanges and the opportunities they afford our children to experience other cultures, as well as the economic contribution that the English language teaching sector makes to, for instance, rural and seaside communities here in the UK. Equally, the sector plays an important export role, as evidenced by its membership of the Education Sector Advisory Group, run out of the Department for International Trade."
Moving on to school exchange trips, she pointed out that nearly 40% of UK secondary school pupils take part in at least one international exchange visit, compared with nearly 80% of teenagers at independent schools. Pupils in state schools could be very badly affected, she said, and the Government could "hardly be said to be promoting this if one of their first acts is to place barriers in the way of under-18s from the European mainland coming here."
Labour peer Lord Adonis agreed with Lady Morris, saying: "It is vital we do not do anything to imperil the free exchange of students and young people in and out of the country," while LibDem peer Baroness Hamwee agreed with Lady Prashar's arguments on soft power.
Latest response from government
Speaking for the Government in the last Lords's debate Lady Williams said: "We fully recognise the concerns of English language schools and acknowledge that they will have been exacerbated by the impact of coronavirus on travel, tourism and education this year.
"We have, however, left the EU and it would not be appropriate for EEA students to be given the right of entry on production of an identity card that this amendment would confer." Passports, she said, "should not be considered an uncommon or short-term investment". She suggested that a Council of Europe collective passport was very good way for an organised group of young people to make a trip between certain European countries. "While they are not widely used, the ratifying countries have the option to issue them."
She said ID cards were among the most abused documents detected at the border and the amendment did not recognise that EU citizens with settled status could continue to travel on them. In addition, she said that allowing minors to travel on ID cards would slow up border checks because of the need to check ages and how long the student would be entering the UK for.
Why is ID card travel so important to UK ELT?
Under-18s are UK ELT's biggest market and most of these students come from Europe, travelling on their ID cards as part of organised groups accompanied by responsible adult teachers or guardians.
Feedback from study travel agents and members around the ending of ID-card travel has been bleak, suggesting most European parents would not wish to go to the trouble and expense of obtaining passports for what are often only two or three-week study holidays. Instead, those groups and individuals would choose to study within the EU travel area in our competitors Ireland or Malta.
The economic impact of Covid-19 across our key markets makes it even less likely that parents will prioritise obtaining passports for their children. A survey of English UK members in 2019 found that almost 90% (89.95%) of respondents had some proportion of under-18s travelling on ID only. Just over three-quarters had under-14s coming on cards, compared to almost 100% of 17- and 18-year olds.
Roughly two thirds of those responding had more than half of their European juniors travelling with ID cards. A respondent from a language centre chain said: "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 financially viable without those groups and after 53 years will be forced to close."
English UK's lobbying work
English UK is the national association of accredited English language centres in the UK. Campaigning and lobbying on behalf of the English language teaching industry is a key focus of our work.
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