First-year EU students face £800 Brexit bill if not in UK before 2021

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent
·4-min read

First-year EU students who enrolled in UK universities this autumn but have been unable to move to the country due to the pandemic face an £800 Brexit bill shock if they don’t set foot on British soil before 31 December, campaigners have warned.

The Home Office said they will not qualify for EU pre-settled status if they arrive after the end of the transition period, even though they have been unable to relocate because of Covid.

It potentially means tens of thousands of students will have to pay £348 in application fees for a visa with £470 a year in health charges, both new post-Brexit costs.

Mantas Gudelis, 19, who started a biochemistry degree at the University of Edinburgh in September but is studying at home in Vilnius, Lithuania, said: “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, a lawyer and head of policy at campaign group the3million, has raised concerns with the Home Office that many students face these costs and could miss out on benefits that come with pre-settled and settled status, such as long-term residency, employment and social benefits rights.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Arguably students enrolling at British universities this year have done so under free movement laws, which allowed them to get home fees, so “it doesn’t seem right that they can’t come and study here using those same rights”, Piper added.

An estimated 150,000 students come to the UK from other countries in the EU and the European Economic Area, according to Universities UK (UUK), which is helping educational institutes advise their students.

“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 immigration rule changes,” said a spokesperson.

One issue for EU students who have not started their education in the UK before the end of the transition period is that they cannot evidence their residency with rent receipts, utility bills or bank accounts.

Gudelis and the3million are pressing to know whether EU students would establish their right to pre-settled status if they came to the UK for just a few days before 31 December.

Related: Making EU students pay higher fees is a blow for social mobility

According to Home Office rules published on the government website, students only need to provide one document dated in the last six months in order to be granted pre-settled status, including a “passport stamp confirming entry at the UK border” or “a used travel ticket confirming you entered the UK from another country”.

In a section entitled “evidence that covers shorter periods of time”, the Home Office states: “these documents count as evidence for one month if they have a single date on” suggesting a short trip to the UK up to and including New Year’s Eve is enough to evince free movement rights.

The Home Office confirmed this was the case saying that 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”.

It gave no indication it would be addressing the exceptional circumstances affecting EU students who arrived after 31 December but had enrolled for classes in 2020.

“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,” said a spokesperson.