EU proposes talks with UK for easy work and study for under-30s

Labour says this looks too much like a return to pre-Brexit free movement and it has ‘no plans’ to negotiate such a deal. The UK government does not want an EU-wide scheme.

The EU wants to help young Britons and EU citizens experience life in other countries again
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The European Commission has proposed opening negotiations with the UK for an ambitious agreement making it easy for under-30s to work, study and live in each other’s territories.

However, the UK government says it is "not introducing an EU-wide scheme", though it is “open” to such deals with individual EU states, as it already has ‘youth mobility’ schemes with other countries such as Australia and New Zealand. Such deals would be bilateral, and  only "where it’s in the UK’s interest and supports the skills and opportunities of our youth".

"Free movement within the EU was ended and there are no plans to introduce it," a government spokesperson said.

Labour, widely forecast to win the coming general election, also says it looks too much like a return to free movement and it has “no plans” to negotiate such a deal.

Since Brexit, the UK has been treated as any other ‘third-country’ to the EU and European citizens have been treated the same as any other foreigners in the UK. 

The tradition of young people crossing the Channel for an extended stay to experience a new culture and to improve language skills has to a large extent stopped.

The Commission proposes that the parties should remove the ‘main barriers’ facing 18-30-year-olds. They would be able to come without a set ‘purpose’ (ie. tied to specific studies or jobs) and without any quotas, it suggests.

It says it has proposed this in view of the fact the UK has recently made overtures to several individual EU countries about better ‘youth mobility’. 

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However, it denies it would be equivalent to reinstating free movement because the rights would be for a limited period, and conditional (for example young people would need proof of sufficient means for their stay). It envisages that the UK would waive its usual ‘high’ visa fees, £776 ‘health surcharge’ and ‘high’ international student fees.

European commissioner Maros Sefcovic said: “The UK’s withdrawal from the EU has hit young people in the EU and the UK who would like to study, work and live abroad particularly hard. 

“Today, we take the first step towards an ambitious but realistic agreement between the EU and the UK that would fix this issue. Our aim is to rebuild human bridges between young Europeans on both sides of the Channel.

“The more we have young people on both sides of the Channel, the more we increase the possibility and probability that we will be on good terms because the next generation knows each other very well,” said Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

The next step will be for the Commission’s proposals to be discussed by the EU Council. If it agrees, the Commission would be given the power to reach out to the UK to start talks.

The plan has been welcomed by the group Seasonal Business in Travel, which has previously criticised a slump in opportunities for seasonal postings in the EU for Britons post-Brexit. 

Managing director Charles Owen said the plan would be “a win-win for both Europe and the UK, and in particular for struggling businesses suffering from chronic labour shortages, made worse by Brexit”.

The UK has previously turned down a proposal to continue with the EU’s Erasmus exchanges scheme.