French and German educational trip organisers bringing as many as 750,000 school pupils to the UK every year have warned that tougher post-Brexit entry requirements are likely to cut the number of young Europeans visiting Britain by half.
“We’ve already seen a big fall-off in interest,” said Edward Hisbergues, the sales manager of a leading French operator, PG Trips. “My business was 90% UK, 10% Ireland; now it’s all about Ireland. Schools are inquiring about visits to the Netherlands or Malta.”
The British government has rejected requests from organisers to exempt children taking part in short organised educational trips from new passport and visa measures due to come into effect on 1 October, saying they are needed to strengthen Britain’s borders.
The organisers said many thousands of UK host families, language schools, hotels and other businesses around the country, and especially in cities such as Canterbury that specialise in the educational market, risked suffering a significant economic impact.
They also said the new border restrictions could inflict broader and longer-term damage to Britain’s relations with Europe.
School trips “foster intercultural understanding and reduce prejudice”, wrote the German federation of leading school trip organisers, whose members run 7,000 trips a year to the UK representing more than 1.5m overnight stays.
“They forge lifelong connections with the UK, increase tolerance for people, cultures and different ways of living and thinking, and help the acquisition of language skills in the internationally most important language.”
Hisbergues said school trips abroad “really open eyes. They can inspire kids and change the course of young lives.”
Ingo Dobbert, the deputy chair of the German federation, said German children risk “being excluded from the valuable experience their predecessors had of travelling to and living in the UK”.
The French and German organisers said the UK government’s decision to no longer accept EU national ID cards for entry into Britain from 1 October would deter less well-off families, since the cost of a passport could increase a trip’s price by 10% to 20% per child, depending on age.
They are particularly concerned about the abolition of collective passports – the “list of travellers” scheme that allowed non-EU students, usually from immigrant families, to travel as part of an organised group without needing a UK visa.
Schools in France, Germany, Spain, Italy and other EU countries often allow trips only if every pupil in the class can take part, meaning groups with even one non-EU pupil will “no longer consider Britain as a viable option” because of the cost and administrative hassle of securing a UK visa, the organisers said.
Between 5% and 10% of German children on school trips to the UK would need to apply for a visa costing £95 under the new rules, the companies said, while half of French trips would be at risk for the same reason.
In letters sent to Boris Johnson and the Home Office, the organisers noted that school trips generate much-needed income for many UK host families, as well as for museums, theatres and attractions such as Stonehenge, the London Eye and the Brighton Pavilion, usually outside the busy holiday season.
“In many British towns, student visitors are a vital part of the local economy,” the German federation wrote. France’s 10,000 school trips a year represent a direct annual input into the UK economy of £100m, French organisers said. Dobbert said he felt the British government was “not thinking of the long-term impact of this”.
Susan Jones of LinguaStay, a UK homestay accommodation provider, said her firm welcomed 10,000 continental schoolchildren a year into Chester, with 300 regular host families and six employees.
“So many people, with so much to lose,” she said. “The short-stay educational travel market will die. And these are schoolchildren, travelling with their teachers – not a security threat.”
Both the French and German organisers asked the government to consider allowing under-18s travelling as part of organised trips lasting less than two weeks to enter the UK with ID cards, and urged it to maintain the “list of travellers” for school groups.
The minister for future borders and immigration, Kevin Foster, has rejected their requests, saying in replies to multiple individuals and organisations that the government was “committed to strengthening the security of our border”.
From 1 October, most European Economic Area nationals “will require a passport like everyone else”, Foster said, adding that the “list of travellers” scheme would end on the same date and “all pupils, no matter their nationality, will need a passport – and visa if required – to visit the UK on an organised school trip”.
Continuing the scheme would run counter to plans for a “position where everyone obtains an individual permission in advance of travel from the Home Office”, he said, with those permissions used to “keep those who may pose a threat away from our border and facilitate the passage of legitimate travellers”.
Foster added that the government had “provided almost a year’s notice for these changes to allow people to plan ahead and obtain a passport, and visa if they need to, before they travel”.
Dobbert said his federation had “the strong impression” that the British government “has very little understanding of the problems we’ll have equipping children with passports and organising visas for non-German citizens”.
He said the new measures would “cause the costs of a journey to the UK to explode, and have a considerable influence on our decision to travel to the UK. It will force us to choose alternative English-speaking destinations.”