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By Paul Seddon
Politics reporter

The EU wants to start talks with the UK government on a deal to make it easier for young people to study or work abroad after Brexit.

The European Commission has suggested a deal to bring back a version of free movement for people aged between 18 and 30.

The UK already runs schemes with some non-EU countries to allow people to come to the UK for up to two years.

It says it is open to extending that to individual EU member states.

But Downing Street says it prefers these country-by-country deals rather than an agreement that would apply across all 27 EU member states.

The commission wants to negotiate a new international agreement, tagged on to the post-Brexit trade deal with the UK, which came into force in 2021.

It would be the first such mobility deal the bloc has struck with any country outside the European Economic Area (EEA), except Switzerland.

In a policy document, the European Commission said it was stepping in after the UK approached several unnamed EU counties last year to discuss individual deals.

It said this risked “differential treatment” of EU citizens, and instead there should be a bloc-wide deal to ensure they are “treated equally”.

Any decision to open negotiations with the UK would ultimately be a decision for EU governments, which would also have to agree on the terms to be negotiated. A date for them to discuss the proposal is yet to be set.

The UK already has a youth mobility scheme visa allowing young people from 10 countries including Australia, New Zealand, and Canada to study or work in the UK for up to two years. However, it is not open to EU applicants.

Fee cut urged

The European Commission is proposing an EU-UK deal that would go further, lasting up to four years with no restrictions on time spent working, studying, training or volunteering.

It also says EU applicants should not have to pay the annual UK charge towards the NHS, which ranges from £776 for students and under-18s to £1,035 for workers.

And EU students should pay the same tuition fees as UK students, rather than the higher fees they have had to pay since Brexit, and have rights to reunite with family members, under the proposals.

In a statement, the Home Office said its existing youth mobility programmes had been “successful” and it remained “open to agreeing them with our international partners, including EU member states”.

“Our agreements provide a valuable route for cultural exchanges providing partner countries are also willing to offer the same opportunities for young British people,” the department added.

A No 10 spokeswoman said: “We have spoken about wanting to reduce legal migration and also about wanting to support UK talent and skills and that’s why we have a system in place whereby we have a number of agreements with individual EU member states where that works in our interests and we have that rather than a Commission-wide agreement.”

Levels of immigration from the EU to the UK have declined since freedom of movement rules ended in 2021, requiring EU citizens to get a visa to live the UK, study, or get a job.

The deal proposed by the commission is likely to have an impact on official immigration figures, with immigrants living in the UK for longer than a year showing up in the official statistics.

The UK turned down an offer to continue participating in the EU’s Erasmus student exchange scheme after Brexit, and has put in place a replacement, called the Turing Scheme.

23 November 2023
12 March 2021