Campaigners are warning that EU students who enrolled onto UK university courses this autumn face substantial UK visa fees if they fail to arrive in the UK before 31 December.
Many international students from the EU have been unable to begin their studies in the UK due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions on movement, and have instead started their courses online in their countries of origin.
The Home Office has stated that students in this situation will not be eligible for pre-settled status once the Brexit transition period draws to a close, despite the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented them from travelling to the UK.
EU students who are ineligible for pre-settled status will need to pay both the £470 Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) and UK Visa application fees of £348. The situation has caused outrage among students and campaigners.
19-year-old Mantas Gudelis is a first-year biochemistry student at the University of Edinburgh, but is currently working remotely from his home in Vilnius, Lithuania. He told The Guardian:
“The university have told us quite a few times about this. It is sad for me because it is quite a financial hit.
The health surcharge over four years is £2,000 and for my family that is a lot of money, especially as one of my parents was laid off because of the pandemic. The system should allow us to come because this is not our fault.”
Luke Piper, lawyer and head of policy group 3million, has raised concerns to the Home Office regarding the situation currently facing EU students. In addition to being hit with considerable fees, Piper argues that students also risk missing out on some of the benefits that settled/pre-settled status provides, such as long-term residency, employment and social benefits.
“It’s a really big issue. A lot of students have paid fees and have started their studies abroad so are actively studying at British universities. But when we spoke to the government, they say they need to create a clear deadline to end freedom of movement on 31 December.”
“They are students who have not been able to come to the UK through no fault of their own. We should be able to make an exception for this cohort. They could easily adapt the EU settlement scheme, otherwise these students will have to pay extortionate fees to the Home Office and potentially miss out on other opportunities.”
Campaigners have asserted that EU students who have enrolled at UK educational institutions prior to the end of the transition period have done so under EU freedom of movement laws. Piper said: “It doesn’t seem fair that they can’t come and study in the UK under the rights of free movement.”
The website of advocacy organisation Universities UK (UUK) states that around 150,000 students from the EU/European Economic Area (EEA) arrive in the UK each year. A UUK spokesperson has said:
“All universities are working closely with the Home Office to ensure that currently enrolled EU students are aware of UK requirements for obtaining pre-settled status, and UUK has issued guidance to universities on the latest UK immigration rule changes.”
Lack of evidence
One of the most prominent issues facing the students in question is that they are unable to prove their residency through rent receipts, utility bills or bank accounts.
The Guardian has stated that both Gudelis and 3million are working to find out whether it is possible for EU students to establish pre-settled status by coming to the UK for a few days prior to 31 December.
Home Office regulations state that students are only required to provide one document dated within the last six months to be eligible for the status. This can take the form a passport stamp confirming entry at a UK border or a used travel ticket that proves entry into the UK from a different country.
Within a section entitled ‘evidence that covers shorter periods of time’, the guidance goes on to state, “These documents count as evidence for one month if they have a single date on”, which indicates that a short trip to the UK at any point before 31 December may be enough to secure pre-settled status.
The Home Office has confirmed that this is the case:
“To apply for pre-settled status, individuals only need to be here for a day before the deadline on 31 December. If an individual has arrived in the UK on 31 December, they will still be eligible to apply for pre-settled status.”
Having said this, the Home Office is yet to confirm whether the ‘exceptional circumstances’ facing EU students who arrive in the UK after 31 December, but who enrolled on university courses in 2020 will be taken into consideration.
“We have been clear that students, like all other EEA and Swiss citizens, must be resident in the UK by 31 December 2020 to have rights under the Citizens’ Rights Agreements.”
That being said, from 1st January 2021, immigration rules will change for EU nationals who wish to study in the UK.
British citizens will also be affected by the new immigration rules. This includes British citizens who are looking to move to Spain or another EU country.
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