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Collective passports cutback concerns UK study travel sector

It will be some time before the market feels the fallout of the near termination of collective passports for study trips to the UK, according to stakeholders.

Collective Passports, often used by school trips, study travel firms among other organisations have also been all but scrapped. Photo: iStock

Some members who would usually have forward bookings of 12-15,000 students for 2022 have just 800 at present

Along with the decision to end the use of European Union ID cards for EU citizens coming into the UK, group passports, often used by school trips, study travel firms among other organisations, have also been all but scrapped.

“Currently only Slovenia, Malta [and the UK] use the collective passport”

Despite the Home Office officially saying that collective passports were still permitted for use, the method to obtain them is costly and difficult.

“Whilst it remains current policy to continue to accept collective passports issued by signatories to the treaty, as part of our Points Based Immigration System, it is our intention to move to a position where everyone obtains an individual permission from the Home Office in advance of travel and so in the future we are likely to require individual documents,” said an update from the Home Office.

Emma English, who runs the British Educational Travel Association, believes despite lobbying from various parties, this is an attempt by the government to eliminate the process altogether.

“Currently only Slovenia, Malta [and the UK] use the collective passport and with that, how likely are they to respond to our lobbying to promote and expand the scheme if their intention is to phase it out?” English told The PIE News.

English UK, whose members also would heavily use the options such as the collective passports and the use of EU ID cards, is alarmed by the Home Office’s response.

“The potential losses are huge,” Huan Japes, English UK’s membership director told The PIE News.

“One of our members, currently visiting agents in Italy, is hearing that many are relocating groups to Ireland because of the end of ID Card travel, and we have heard of French agents doing the same – often with groups which usually visit the UK each year,” Japes added.

This comes after there was worry from stakeholders just after the ban on EU ID cards came into force in October that students may instead opt for Ireland or Malta.

English also expressed concern regarding the number of bookings going down over the last year.

“Some members who would usually have forward bookings of 12,000-15,000 students for 2022 have just 800 at present,” English explained.

“It is a real live issue and one that is being compounded by the pandemic.”

Another issue that has arisen along with the decimation of the collective passports protocol is the end of the List of Travellers scheme.

The LoT scheme, separate from collective passports, was a visa scheme based on a 1994 council decision that allows a “visa national pupil legally resident in a member state” attending school to visit another member state without a passport as part of an “organised school group”.

The scheme enabled third-country nationals to travel as part of an organised school group, but now due to Brexit individuals would need a passport and visa in order to travel as part of that group.

“This adds both cost and complication to organisers meaning that for some, they simply won’t travel,” added English.

Japes also told The PIE News that English UK would like to see a different scheme in place if the Home Office “will not budge on restoring ID card travel for juniors groups organised by schools and agents”.

The Tourism Alliance have put forward their own “List of Travellers” scheme, which English UK fully supports, to lobby the government for leeway on school and study trips.

The newly released document tells readers about how the EU was the biggest market for educational travel to the UK with students travelling on their ID cards as part of organised groups accompanied by responsible adult teachers or guardians.

However, since the requirement for all visitors to the UK to have full passports was introduced on October 1, 2021, the market has collapsed, it said.

“This adds both cost and complication to organisers meaning that for some, they simply won’t travel”

“This proposed scheme would allow students travelling under the supervision of teachers from EU schools to enter the UK for a period of up to six weeks in order to attend an accredited English Language School and visit cultural and historic attractions,” Japes explained.

“The scheme would be open to EU nationals and residents up to the age of 18 – the adult leader would need a full passport but the under 18s would not,” he added.

The Tourism Alliance has said that the successful introduction of the proposed scheme would not just save the educational travel industry, but also “has the potential to generate over £1bn per annum in additional revenue”.

The Home Office’s latest update, however does not give English much to be optimistic about.

“Our members in this field need to start to recover their businesses that have been almost dormant since March 2020 – their businesses have been bolstered by loans and these debts are weighting heavy on their recovery,” English explained.

“This is an enormous loss of opportunity for the UK and young people in general and the topic remains a priority for BETA and our members,” she added.

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