Map of Europe with pins

Brexit and years abroad

Britain voted for Brexit at the EU referendum on the 23rd of June by such a narrow margin that it seems we have heard nothing but complaints from those who voted to remain for weeks. Yet, much of that complaining is quite justified.  Not only did those living in Scotland and Northern Ireland overwhelmingly vote to remain in comparison to the rest of the UK but most of those classed as young people did too.  One of the most common reasons young people have for wishing to remain as part of the EU framework is the freedom that it gives us to live and work anywhere within the EU, something which is now greatly under threat.

All citizens living under the EU framework have the freedom to live and work in other EU countries with the same rights as citizens of that country, and this is something which young people have embraced from the start. One of the most common reasons for young people to love the EU is the infamous year abroad. Many young people choose to work in an EU country other than their own to immerse themselves in another culture and to gain experience in their chosen field on other parts of the continent.  Others choose to explore as much of what the EU has to offer as they can in one go, some travelling for a year or even longer, working where they can along the way, others choosing a shorter period of time to live their lives as nomads.  The most common reason for a year abroad, however, is to study or take a work placement in order to gain a better grasp of a continental language, mainly through the Erasmus programme. In 2013/14, 15,566 UK students participated in the Erasmus programme and since then the numbers benefitting from this scheme has only increased. And it’s not just Britons who are gaining from these EU benefits, young people all over Europe embrace these privileges in huge numbers. All of these things are under threat now that Brexit has been realised, and young people in Britain may be set to miss out big time.

However, much of the effect Brexit will have in such areas is still hugely unknown and nothing will be known for definite until negotiations for leaving the EU have taken place. This can only happen when the government finally decides to invoke article 50 – something which so far, despite the referendum result, they seem unwilling to do.

Young people can take comfort in the fact that those running the show in companies such as Erasmus and inter-rail have no intention of seeing opportunities missed because of this result. A statement on the inter-rail website asks those in Britain not to dismiss inter-railing as a form of travel post-Brexit, siting countries such as Turkey and the US an example of those who benefit from the rail pass from outwith the EU. Meriel Smith, the National Representative of the Erasmus Student Network in the UK has a much more passionate take on the referendum result as quoted on their webpage. She does not hide the fact that this is not the result that the organisation were hoping for, yet she remains positive as she calls upon British and European stakeholders to protect the programme and ensure continued mobility for young people.  She states: ‘We will not let political changes alter out international outlook or our ambition and {the result} will not lessen our determination to study, work, live or visit our friends all around Europe (and beyond). Even those these things may become more difficult, we encourage perseverance in obtaining placements and grants for mobility opportunities.’  She reassures those already studying abroad that they will most likely experience no changes to their international exchange and that it will only be after 2018, when new regulations are thought to be in place, that student will see changes.

Indeed the biggest difficulty facing those wishing to live and work across Europe, and those who already do, is the uncertainty this result has brought. Many newspapers have stated that travel to Europe will now require a visa and citizens will have to undergo the checks that this involves, however this is not as certain as some might think. Others state that travel insurance will be more expensive as we will no longer have access to European Health Insurance Cards which allow Europeans to receive treatment for free that is free for citizens of that country.  Both of these things are covered but the European Economic Area (EEA), an area of EU membership that many voted leave to get rid of, but, like everything else, membership of the EEA and its benefits are still to be negotiated by the government.  There is no guarantee that leaving the EU would mean UK citizens no longer had access to these benefits.

Despite the fact that the British people may need to be granted a visa to travel to the continent or pay more for insurance when they do, studying, living and working in Europe is not going to be impossible. Large numbers of young people spend their year abroad out-with the EU, they study out-with the EU and countries such as Australia and Canada still report huge immigration numbers from the UK. However, it will almost certainly cost more for those in the UK to do these things in Europe now, and that means less people (young people especially) will be able to reap the benefits. The only way that these benefits can be protected and retained post-Brexit is if a strong government argues strongly for it to be so.  With almost all of the Leave campaigners reassuringly leaving government as soon as possible after the referendum result, that responsibility lies with a new Prime Minister and cabinet at the helm and it is far too early to predict how competent they will be at achieving this.

And so I leave you with one final reassurance from Meriel Smith: ‘To all young people who voted for a future in Europe: do not give up hope. It may not have gone as we had hoped, but we have sent a powerful message about the sort of future we want to live in. We have before us both a challenge and an opportunity, a chance to help shape a stronger Europe.’

Image credit: flickr.com/glasgowamateur

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Katherine Halliday

I am an English and History graduate from Dundee with a passion for travel and a passion for writing.

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