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UK Youth Mobility Scheme expansion ‘a win for ELT’

Campaigners are making positive strides in their efforts to make the UK the premier English language learning destination, as the government announced the expansion of its Youth Mobility Scheme.

Countries newly added to the reciprocal visa scheme include Andorra and Uruguay. Photo: Pexels

ELT stakeholders are eagerly looking to the next elected government to restore work rights for all students studying on a student visa

From January 31, the number of nationals from South Korea who can apply for visas via the scheme each year will increase from 1,000 to 5,000 and the age limit will also go up from 18-30, to 18-35.

British ambassador to South Korea, Colin Crooks, said the expansion will “allow more young people than ever from our two countries to explore each other’s cultures first-hand and to make life-long memories and friends in the process”.

Meanwhile, places for Japanese nationals will also increase from 1,500 to 6,000, with the same age increase. The deal with Japan was made by James Cleverly late last year, in one of his final moves as UK foreign secretary, before becoming home secretary.

Other countries newly added to the reciprocal visa scheme include Andorra and Uruguay – the first South American nation to join.

The expansion has been welcomed by ELT sector stakeholders, as impacts of both the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit are still being felt by many businesses.

The scheme gives nationals of participating countries the opportunity to live and work in the UK for up to two years, with many choosing to study English.

“The expansion of the YMS is very significant this year, so we’re looking forward to increased enrolments from Japan and Korea,” said Tim Shoben, founder and director of the Islington Centre for English.

In the future, Shoben hopes to see the scheme extended to countries such as Brazil and Colombia, where he said the centre is already well entrenched.

Huan Japes, membership director, English UK, told The PIE News there has been “unofficial indications” that further countries in Latin America will be offered.

It is already rolled out to New Zealand citizens, aged 18-35, as well as those from Australia, Canada, Monaco, San Marino, Iceland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, aged 18-30.

A separate India Young Professionals Scheme visa allows young Indian citizens  – announced in 2022 and selected by ballot – a similar opportunity.

Japes told The PIE he’d like to see the age range increased for more countries, as well as see it extended to three years.

Meanwhile, London’s mayor Sadiq Khan recently spoke out in favour of a scheme that would see links between the UK all EU countries, something Japes and his team at English UK have been lobbying for.

Japes told The PIE the ball is in the court of the EU Commission, whose co-operation is needed to make progress.

“An EU deal would be nice if you encompass 27 nations, obviously. But if that is not possible for the reasons of the EU state, then let’s look at it bilaterally and do deals with countries where there are good opportunities,” said Japes, citing countries such as Italy, France, Spain, Germany and Benelux countries.

Further expansion of YMS is not the only thing high on the government policy wish list of stakeholders, with many eagerly looking to the next elected government to restore work rights for all students studying on student visas, including those at further education colleges and private language centres.

“We need students to be able to work in the UK. That’s really the bottom line”

“We need students to be able to work in the UK. That’s really the bottom line. But how far off that realistically is? I don’t know, but that would be a game changer,” Sarah Beasley, BEET Language Centre told The PIE.

In 2023, English UK released its position paper, outlining nine key policy suggestions.

“Work rights is our number one objective for adult schools. A lot of the markets that we used to have bigger numbers for and staying for longer, it was down to work rights,” said Japes.

“I think it’s very important to emphasise this is not about wanting the government to water down its financial requirements for certain visa types,” he continued.

“We’re not saying to government that because people can work, they don’t have to provide the same financial guarantees they do at the moment. That’s not the purpose of students having work rights. The purpose of students having work rights is so they can have as broadened an experience as they possibly can.”

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