Campaigners have warned that EU students who enrolled for their first-year at UK universities this autumn face a potential £800 bill if they fail to get to Britain before 31 December 2020. Many international students from EU nations have been unable to travel to the UK for their courses because of coronavirus-related travel restrictions.
The Home Office has said that EU students who have started courses online while in their own country will not qualify for pre-settled status in the UK following completion of the Brexit transition period, despite being unable to travel to Britain because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It means that tens of thousands of students face having to pay up to £348 in UK visa application fees, plus a £470 UK Immigration Health Surcharge. The news has left students and campaigners fuming.
Huge financial hit
19-year-old Mantas Gudelis, who started a biochemistry degree at the University of Edinburgh in September but is currently studying from his home in Vilnius, Lithuania 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,” Gudelis added.
Lawyer and head of policy at campaign group the3million, Luke Piper, raised concerns with the Home Office over the additional costs that EU students face. He argued that as well as being hit with more fees, students stand to miss out on benefits that come with pre-settled and settled status in the UK, including long-term residency, employment and social benefits.
Piper said: “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,” Piper added.
Free movement laws
Campaigners have suggested that EU students who have enrolled at UK universities prior to the completion of the Brexit transition period have done so under 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.”
According to Universities UK (UUK), approximately 150,000 students arrive in the UK from EU and European Economic Area (EEA) nations.
A UUK spokesperson 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.”
One of the challenges facing EU students unable to start their education in person on UK soil ahead of the transition period is that they can’t prove their residency with rent receipts, utility bills or bank accounts.
According to The Guardian, Gudelis and the3million are now pushing to find out whether EU students would be able to establish their right to pre-settled status should they come to Britain for just a few days prior to 31 December.
Home Office rules published on the government’s official website state that students only need to provide a single document that’s dated within the last six months to qualify for pre-settled status. This can include a passport stamp confirming entry at a UK border or a used travel ticket confirming UK entry from another country.
Under a section titled ‘evidence that covers shorter periods of time’, Home Office guidance states: “These documents count as evidence for one month if they have a single date on”, which suggests that a short trip to the UK up to and including New Year’s Eve is enough to demonstrate free movement rights.
The Home Office has confirmed that this is the case and said: “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.”
However, the Home Office gave no indication as to whether it would address the ‘exceptional circumstances’ facing EU students who arrive in the UK after 31 December, but enrolled on university courses in 2020.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “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.”
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