Complications surrounding post-Brexit visa requirements have forced many Durham University students to delay or alter plans to embark on their years abroad this Autumn.
Students have faced delays and bureaucratic obstacles whilst attempting to obtain visas, which are necessary for them to study or work abroad following the UK’s departure from the EU in January 2021. The situation has been further exacerbated by Covid-19 travel regulations.
More than 400 Durham students take part in elective international exchange programmes annually, in addition to Modern Languages students for whom a year abroad is an essential component of their degree. The University facilitates work and study placements to 35 countries in total.
Students intending to travel to France and Spain have been particularly negatively affected.
“The visa process has been a bureaucratic ordeal,” Sophie Farmer, a 3rd year English Literature student told Palatinate. Due to a Covid outbreak at the French Consulate in London, Farmer struggled to obtain a visa appointment in time for her to start studying at the Sorbonne in Paris in mid-September.
Before Brexit visas were not required for UK students to study in France. “The circumstances have been unprecedented”, explained Farmer.
Last month, visa issues became so acute that the UK Foreign Office contacted Spanish authorities on behalf of UK universities. In response, Spanish officials advised students to make sure they have the correct documentation before applying and recommended that UK universities take more control over student visa applications and submit them en masse.
Third-year International Relations student Trini Prasadam was forced to travel to Spain on a tourist visa for her placement at the University of Salamanca. She struggled to gain the correct student visa, despite contacting three Spanish consulate offices in the UK.
Prasadam told Palatinate that the University offered her little assistance managing the expensive and complicated visa process.
Just days before Prasadam was due to travel to Spain she received an email from the host university, informing her that Durham does not have an agreement for the specific course she had applied for. She told Palatinate that this information was never communicated to her, despite the fact that the University had known this since April.
As a result, Prasadam was forced to enrol last-minute in a course taught in Spanish, rather than English, a challenge she feels ill-prepared for. “It’s going to be quite a tough year,” she told Palatinate.
The Covid-19 has provided additional obstacles even for those travelling to countries unaffected by the recent Brexit changes. Tilly Prentis, who studies Russian and Italian, was unable to travel to Russia because she had not been vaccinated with Sputnik, the only vaccine recognised by the local authorities. As a result, she was forced to give up opportunities to work for the government of Tatarstan and for a vodka and caviar company in Moscow.
Prentis noted that the University had been slow to respond when she was forced to change her destination to Ukraine rather than Russia, leaving her uncertain as to whether the University would her trip would be authorised.
Professor Claire O’Malley, ProVice-Chancellor (Global), Durham University, said: “We recognise the distress that may have been caused to study abroad students due to changes in visa regulations and other delays arising from changing regulations governing international travel during the pandemic. We are acutely aware of the difficulties that many of our students have faced when preparing for placements.
“These are issues affecting all universities and result from circumstances beyond our direct control, which have also caused additional administrative burdens.
“Students should be assured that we are doing all we can to help and should get in touch with student mobility teams in Modern Languages and Cultures and the International Office if they are concerned about late arrival at a partner university and the potential implications for their planned programme of study. Universities worldwide recognise these substantial difficulties and will understand.
“In addition, we are continuously reviewing our provision in line with often rapid and far-reaching changes to international study, work and travel.”
Image: Alex Pearce