France and UK to simplify school trip travel rules in 2024

The UK is currently considering ways to boost educational trips from the EU, including France in particular

The UK’s new border restrictions for EU travellers which accept only those with a passport has been a major deterrent for many school groups. One simpler alternative could be Britain returning to the acceptance of national ID cards while France would offer visa-free entry for UK students.

Statistics published by the British Educational Travel Association (BETA) show that prior to Covid and Brexit, the youth, student and educational travel market collectively contributed £28.6 billion to the UK economy with 14.6 million youth and student travellers visiting or studying in the UK each year. Among them, there were 1.2 million EU students under the age of 18 that visited the UK each year as part of a supervised group to attend English Language Schools, undertake school trips or take part in cultural and sporting events.

However after the UK left the European Union, the rules changed. ID cards were no longer accepted as all EU citizens to the UK have to produce a passport. According to BETA, a large percentage of students and scholars do not own a passport. While many students living in the EU without being EU citizens have now to apply for a visa to the UK.

The combined effect of Covid and Brexit has hit the UK student travel industry. A survey produced by the UK Tourism Alliance in January 2022 showed that 81% of English language schools in the UK saw their revenue decline by over 50% between 2019 and 2021. Despite the removal of travel restriction in early 2022, school groups’ travel bookings remained very low. At the end of October, operators of student travel groups indicated a drop of 83% in the number of students sent to the UK compared to the same period of 2019.

The Tourism Alliance, which represents the interests of the UK travel industry, has been lobbying the UK government to simplify the rules to help a revival of the sector.

France-UK commission to look for solutions

In March, following a meeting between French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, both countries committed to resolve the issue over travelling students. Both politicians agreed to set up a bilateral Commission in educational cooperation.

Travel trade associations pleaded for the Prime Minister to allow students under 18 who have an ID card and third country nationals who have settled in the EU, to travel to the UK as part of an educational or cultural group.

Regarding school travel, the UK has committed to ease inbound school group travel by making changes to documentary requirements for school children on organised trips from France. Meanwhile, France commits to ensuring appropriate mechanisms are in place for visa free travel for children travelling on organised school trips from the UK and to facilitating the passage of those groups through the border.

The new rules could be adopted before the end of the year and could come into effect from 2024. The French-UK solution could also be extended to other EU countries at a later point.

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