MPs discuss issues facing ELT sector
Post-Brexit problems facing the ELT industry were raised during a Parliamentary debate initiated by London Labour MP Dr Rupa Huq.
The debate - that “this House has considered the impact of the UK’s departure from the EU on language schools in the UK” – was answered by Home Office minister Kevin Foster. Support for Dr Huq was provided by Bath Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse, NI DUP MP Jim Shannon and Labour MP Kevin Brennan.
During the Westminster Hall debate, Dr Huq outlined the dramatic fall in students caused by Covid, noted problems including the loss of ID card travel and the risk of losing junior students to Ireland and Malta and gave three recommendations: a group travel scheme, expanded youth mobility schemes and the restoration of some limited work rights. “That would not undermine the stance on freedom of movement or our immigration system, but it might help our tourism sector and language school sector, which are begging for action from the government, because the woods are burning out there and they are doing nothing about it.”
Kevin Foster took the opportunity to announce that electronic travel authorisations (ETAs) would be made available to the Gulf nations next year, but dismissed or ignored the suggestions made by Dr Huq.
Jodie Gray, our chief executive, commented: “While we welcome the minister's proposals on ETAs for the gulf countries - this will make travel and short-term study from these countries much easier - we are disappointed that he did not address the concrete proposals made by Dr Rupa Huq MP in order to improve access and competitiveness for students coming to study English in the UK. We will continue to push for work rights for longer-term adult students, for UKVI to find a solution to the problem of passport travel for junior groups and for an expansion of the youth mobility scheme to encompass our major EU markets.”
Kevin Foster said that as MP for Torbay he had “a strong personal interest” in the subject, adding that by simply focusing on language schools the debate missed a range of issues affecting the sector.
Announcing the availability of electronic travel authorisation to Gulf co-operation Council citizens from 2023, “making the UK a more attractive destination for them,” he ran through areas where he said the government’s changes had benefited ELT.
In an apparent misunderstanding of Dr Huq’s reference to our campaign to replace ID cards with a group travel document for under-18s, Mr Foster said that while the UK continued to recognise the Council of Europe collective passports, he questioned how much longer these would continue to be issued in Europe.
He concluded: “As we move forward with ETA, we expect slightly more countries to move to non-visa ETA national status, which will benefit the sector directly. I want to make it very clear that the rules on ID card use at our border will not be changing, but our generous short-term study offer will remain and that is what the focus of future debates should be.”
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