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Brexit: London centre shuts after 58 years helping French find jobs

Post-Brexit rules mean young French people can no longer just come over to find work and improve English language skills

Advisers used to help French people find work in the UK Pic: Group CEI

A centre which has been helping young French people find work in London since 1964 has closed, saying post-Brexit immigration rules have made its work impossible. 

The Centre Charles Péguy, a British charity attached to French association for international exchanges CEI, used to help around 500 new members each year, of whom 90% found a job. 

It also helped with finding accommodation and with paperwork, and allowed users to pick up post. 

However, weighty post-Brexit recruitment rules in the UK mean the situation has radically changed for French people looking to spend time working in the country. 

Read more: France wants ‘new start’ in Anglo-French relations, says minister

French people must be ‘sponsored’ by a UK business

Post-Brexit, French people must be ‘sponsored’ by a UK business, with the UK firm having to apply and pay at least £536 for four years of sponsoring rights, plus a £199 fee for each worker’s sponsorship certificate, and an annual ‘immigration skills charge’ of at least £364/year. 

The job must typically involve high-level skills – for example, ‘chefs’ are eligible but not ‘cooks’ – and it should pay at least £25,600/year. The employee must apply for a visa, with a fee of at least £625 and an annual healthcare charge of £624. 

Thibault Dufresne, a CEI director who formerly ran the centre, said: “We helped young French speakers who wanted to work and learn English and it was a great support to them as, over the years, we’d made links with many businesses. 

‘Before, a young person could come, without even speaking good English’

“Before, a young person could come, without even speaking good English, and we found them a job the next day. It was an entry point for those who wanted to go abroad and learn English and for many it was their first job, aged 18, 19, or 20 years old – in sectors like hotels and restaurants, home help, transport and building, where the UK is now going to face shortages. 

“It was appreciated by the firms – we understood their needs. Now firms have to sponsor people and they need visas, it’s a whole different thing. 

“It’s for highly qualified work and they can’t just come over and find a job from one day to the next.” 

Mr Dufresne said French restaurants in London are struggling as a result, and often open only either at midday or in the evening. 

Among those they used to help, around a third stayed a few months, a third a year to three years, and another third settled down long-term. 

The CEI continues to work with the UK in organising school exchange programmes and youth language trips, Mr Dufresne said.

Related links

Fears over UK’s challenging mixed nationality rules following Brexit

Language tests for multi-year residency cards on agenda for French MPs

Five tips to mastering the French language when you move to France

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