top of page

Navigating the red tape: life after Brexit for Britain’s languages students

Updated: Mar 13, 2021

The extent of Brexit’s effects will be felt for years to come, like small but forceful aftershocks of a cataclysmic shift. In the present, however, it seems like there is only chaos. UK languages students have had their plans knocked sideways, suddenly having to contend with paperwork, visas, and huge costs that we were never prepared for.

Photo: Elionas2 via Pixabay

University coordinators have told The Guardian that they received little advice from the Foreign Office before Britain’s departure from the EU, meaning that linguists this year now face unforeseen rules that have seriously impacted their travel plans.

Many students starting exchanges in EU countries must now apply for visas, and in some regions they must show proof of sufficient funds before being permitted to enter. Those staying in Austria, Portugal or Italy must have a bank account boasting at least €6,000 (£5,194), while an income of €700-€800 a month is required in Germany, Sweden, and Denmark. Without warning, students now face enormous challenges that make getting abroad feel arduous and overwhelming.

Not only do rules vary between countries, but consulates are offering guidance which differs to that provided by local embassies. The result is perpetual confusion for students simply trying to get abroad and complete a languages degree.

Universities still have limited knowledge about what is required by foreign governments and at border control; even linguists already in possession of residency documents may need additional paperwork if travelling back to Germany or other EU countries from the UK, meaning that many students who began placements last year but returned home for Christmas are now stranded in the UK.

This issue is, of course, compounded by travel bans, quarantine requirements and mandatory testing put in place as a result of COVID-19. Huge numbers of linguists due to start study exchanges or internships abroad this year are also marooned, awaiting further guidance on travel requirements or for coronavirus restrictions to ease.

Even those who chose to stay abroad over Christmas are not safe from the consequences of Brexit, as they may be required to come back to the UK to apply for their visas. There is no certainty or assurance to be found when universities and embassy officials alike offer inadequate or conflicting advice. This, again, is only made worse by the pandemic, as some universities have prohibited students from leaving the country due to health risks and difficulties with insurance, while others have encouraged their pupils to get abroad despite heavy travel restrictions and local lockdowns.

We are, of course, desperate to go, but jumping through the hoops of Brexit-induced bureaucracy only to be stuck in a student apartment in a foreign country is less than ideal. With so many difficult decisions and such a lack of direction, the year abroad has become a nightmare for many.

Government guidance remains unclear and hesitant, in many cases simply instructing students to consult their languages faculties or Erasmus coordinators, who in turn can do little more than direct us back to these fuzzy political statements that often do not align with the current rules of the regions we are attempting to enter.

The year abroad is an obligatory part of a modern languages degree, imperative not only for immersion and fluency but for cultural experience. Yet it has felt in the past few months like the government gave almost no thought to the fate of modern languages students in the wake of Brexit - especially after the announcement that the UK will no longer participate in the Erasmus programme.

Given the pandemic, it is no surprise that certainty and assurance are in short supply, but clarity surrounding Brexit is something that we should have been provided with long before January 1. The Foreign Office has stated that it is working with universities to resolve issues, but for many of us with plans changed or scrapped in the face of ever-changing advice, the damage has already been done.

bottom of page