London Mayor Sadiq Khan is to ask the government to ease post-Brexit visa rules, which he warns are discouraging young Europeans from visiting and working in the capital.
In a speech to business leaders on Thursday evening, Khan will call on ministers to introduce a new youth group travel visa, designed to make the UK more open to visits by international school pupils.
A recent survey by the Tourism Alliance, the UK tourism industry body, found that a group of EU-based tour operators expected to send just 42% of students to the UK in 2023 compared to how many they sent in 2019. This compares to 95% for the Republic of Ireland and 90% for the other EU countries.
Mr Khan said he was concerned about the impact of “restrictive policies that only harm our economy and growth opportunities”.
While rising travel costs in general have had an impact on tourism across Europe, post-Brexit border rules, especially the requirement for all visiting EU students to carry passports, are thought to have had a particular impact on the number of school visitors to the UK.
Before Brexit, groups of EU schoolchildren could travel using their state-issued European Economic Area (EEA) ID cards, but from October 2021 every child entering the UK must have a passport and children with passports non-EU, including refugees, also need a £95 visa.
Passport ownership is less common in many European countries than in the UK, as many people travel within the EU using their national ID card, with less than half the population of France and Germany holding a passport .
The new rules are thought to make many EU school trips to London prohibitively difficult and expensive to arrange.
In the speech addressed to entrepreneurs on the occasion of the inauguration of the new headquarters in the city of the Patriarche architecture studio, the Mayor will also ask for the extension of the Government’s Youth Mobility Plan, by mutual agreement, with the EU countries.
The scheme allows young people aged between 18 and 30 from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and a few other countries to live and work in the UK for up to two years.
The government’s Independent Migration Advisory Committee has long called for the program to be expanded. Mr Khan believes doing so would promote cultural exchange and support sectors suffering from labor shortages, such as hospitality and catering.
“Our post-Brexit future must not mean isolation from our European friends and partners and restrictive policies that only harm our economy and growth opportunities,” Khan said.
News of the proposed policy was welcomed by Richard Toomer, executive director of the Tourism Alliance, who said: “London and the rest of the country have so much to offer visitors young and old.
“We should be encouraging tourists to come here, not putting up unnecessary barriers. No longer accepting ID cards at the border has had a huge impact on the number of young people visiting the UK, especially on organized school trips.”
He added: “Youth mobility is a great reciprocal program where young people can travel and experience different cultures and so often bring back a lifelong enthusiasm for the county in their home nation.
“Youth mobility programs already exist and urgently need to expand to more countries such as France, Spain and Poland so that more young people can benefit from them.”
Khan’s policy suggestions threaten to further emphasize the difference in perspectives between him and Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer, when it comes to the broader issue of Britain’s relationship with the EU.
In January, the mayor called for a “debate” on whether the UK should rejoin the European single market, but Sir Keir said there was “no reason to return to the EU or rejoin the single market”.
The Labor leader instead said that there are “very good reasons for Brexit to work”.