|Important note: since the publication of this story, the UK Government has confirmed that visitors may continue to use their ID cards for entry to the UK until 30 September 2021. This gives a reprieve to the UK ELT sector, our agent partners and European markets for the important summer 2021 season, and plenty of time to prepare. From 1 October 2021, all visitors will require a passport in order to enter the UK.
English UK's campaign to keep ID card travel for EU juniors was put to the vote in the House of Lords in October where it was rejected by a frustratingly small 14 votes.
Baroness Prashar of Runnymede, a cross-bench peer, brought the amendment to the Immigration Bill for us with written support from peers from the three main political parties. We had further support from 12 peers including Lord Blunkett and Lady Bakewell who signed a letter about the amendment which was published in the Daily Telegraph on the day of the vote, and others who spoke for it during the debate.
We are grateful to all the wise and helpful members of the House of Lords who were willing to learn about our industry and its problems and to try to make a difference for us.
In our efforts to persuade the Government to keep ID card travel after Brexit, we have worked through every stage of the Bill in the Commons and the Lords, attempting to get an amendment adopted in the Commons and getting the issue debated three times in the Lords, with a vote on the final occasion.
While it is disappointing not to have won the vote, the result was not wholly unexpected, and we have many other positives from the campaign, not least the high profile support of cross-bench peers, which was picked up by the national press.
What happens next?
We are exploring other travel options to protect our juniors' market. The Government has been adamant throughout that the best option for juniors to travel without passports would be to use collective passports, which were agreed in a 1961 Council of Europe treaty signed by up to 18 European countries.
While we do not believe this is as secure as using biometric ID cards for travel, we think this could be a cost-effective and relatively simple option for many groups and will explore this further with European partners.
We are also developing a clear marketing communications campaign for our European partners and the wider market on how to best prepare for the end of freedom of movement. This campaign will emphasise the positives – the UK is open and welcoming – and will clarify what the market needs to know.
What did peers say about UK ELT and ID cards during the final debate?
Lady Prashar: "We should act now to preserve this market, particularly when Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on the English language teaching sector. If not supported, the sector will not survive this double blow. A respondent to a recent survey 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 … viable without those groups and after 53 years will be forced to close.'"
Lady Garden of Frognal: "A swift resolution to this issue is vital, as many language schools, exchanges and other groups of EU juniors are starting to book their visits for 2021. Many will not have travelled this year for obvious reasons and will need to feel confident that post-Brexit Britain remains as welcoming a destination as it has traditionally been, particularly in respect of children. The continuing uncertainty around ID card travel will undercut the messages of recovery and business as usual that the UK will want to promote in 2021. A swift resolution on the ID card issue will go far to create good will and confidence with our European partners and allow the soft-power benefits of exchange visits to continue into the distant future."
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb: "If we allow them to continue using their ID card, they will be less disinclined to come to Britain, and we all know that when young people come to another country, their views are formed, probably permanently, about that country, and if they have a good time, they will always come back and spend money and help our economy.
"It is also a fact that these children do not pose a threat to national security; it is not as if they are going to be dangerous once they are here. These are people we very much want to come, and it seems illogical not to allow them to travel on ID cards…Group passports could actually be less secure and might be more difficult to obtain and, therefore, another deterrent to people coming here."
Lord Hunt of King's Heath: "We know many of these juniors will receive new ID cards in the coming years, with added security features such as biometric information. The aspiration of the EU countries is for all new ID cards of this kind to be made available by 2021. Most of these young people will be travelling in groups co-ordinated by one or more passport-carrying teachers or group leaders and will remain part of this group for the duration of their time here.
"On the other point raised in Committee, which was the Minister's suggestion that collective passports be used, I understand, from those who travel from the UK using collective passports, that this can be a very bureaucratic and cumbersome procedure. Collective passports have not been used in many EU countries in recent years, so this is not a practical solution.
"At the end of the day, this is a very valuable business in the UK, with so many language schools, and we have huge benefits from young people going from the UK to EU countries and vice versa. Surely the Home Office would want to do what it could to help this."
Lord Paddick: "Much English language teaching is based in coastal and rural communities, so the Government's levelling-up agenda will be damaged, as will exchange trips, disadvantaging UK students, because the foreign students will not be able to come here, therefore the UK students will not be able to go on exchange visits to European countries."
Lord Rosser: "It has been made clear in this debate that the English language learning sector has concerns about the impact on English language education of changes to the immigration rules. What dialogue have the Government had with this sector on these concerns, which it clearly regards as striking at the very heart of its existence?"
The Government Whip, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay: "The noble Baroness's amendment would, as she acknowledged, oblige us to treat a particular group of EEA citizens whose rights are not enshrined in the withdrawal agreements more generously than other EEA citizens— and more generously than students from non-EEA countries. It would give EEA students a right of entry at a time when we are ending free movement from the EU and aligning the immigration of EEA and non-EEA citizens. It would simply therefore not be appropriate for EEA students to be treated in that preferential way."
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.