Brexit Repercussions Threaten UK Programs

New restrictions on EU citizens who work part time in the UK are making it difficult for schools to hire language assistants

The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU) has thrown a wrench in the country’s world language programs, with educators and school administrators throughout the nation concerned about hiring an adequate number of EU citizens who can assist with teaching their languages in the UK. A recent report from the Financial Times documents these issues, noting that new restrictions that went into place in January on EU citizens who work part time in the UK are making it difficult for schools to hire language assistants.

Although the UK officially left the EU in January 2020, citizens of both the UK and EU could still enjoy the benefits of relatively unrestricted travel between the regions. EU citizens were able to work part time in the UK restriction-free up until the beginning of January 2021, when new immigration and travel requirements went into effect.

Now, EU citizens seeking part-time work in the UK must apply for a work visa, which can be a lengthy and cumbersome process, especially compared to the pre-Brexit era. A 2018 report showed that more than two thirds of public schools and 78% of private schools in the nation employed non-British citizens of the EU as world language teachers. However, schools are now questioning the additional cost of continuing to employ so many EU citizens following the implementation of the new requirements.

Language educators and advocates have been wary of Brexit’s potential effects on world languages in the country for years now, especially since there is a an going shortage of qualified language educators with British citizenship. The British Council’s 2018 Languages Trends survey found that the number of students studying foreign languages was down significantly, and cited Brexit as having a negative impact on students’ motivation as well as parents’ attitudes toward language learning. Additionally, the European Language Equality Network noted in 2019 that Brexit could have “disastrous” effects on Celtic languages native to the British Isles, such as Welsh, Cornish, and Scottish Gaelic.

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