Goodbye ID cards: mandatory passports to visit the UK a blow to EU students and tourists

Last August, as the post-Brexit transition period was approaching, the presidents of the twinning committees in the Cotentin peninsula, Normandy, begun to worry about future visits to their twin cities in England.

They were concerned that the UK might require a passport instead of the usual identity card to cross the border.

“The fear… is that several members of the French twinning committees, who only have an identity card and no passport, are not necessarily ready to spend 86 euros for a weekend a year,” wrote La Presse de la Manche.

Eighty-six euros is the cost of a French passport, while most people can travel in the EU with just an ID card.

The issue was raised with local authorities on both sides of the Channel. The committees called for a waiver, with no success.

Now their fears are coming true. From October 1st 2021 the UK will require citizens from the European Union, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland to show a passport to enter the country. Identity cards will no longer be accepted (but there are some exceptions).

Even though a visa is not necessary for short stays, some sectors will be especially impacted by the new document requirements.

School trips no longer “viable”

In a letter sent last February to the British government and to MPs, the German federation of leading school trip organisers (Bundesverband führender Schulfahrtenveranstalter) warned that the number of school trips to the UK would “fall sharply” because of the new policy.

The letter argued that most students from Germany and other European countries only have ID cards and a passport would “add considerable costs” to a UK visit.

Ingo Dobbert, president of the association, said this was concerning for the “many thousands of school groups that have to travel under a limited budget” as they would be “forced to choose other European destinations”.

In 2019 some 7,000 groups, for a total of 250,000 students, went on school trips from Germany to England, Scotland and Wales, resulting in 1.5 million overnight stays.

The letter also highlighted the problem for non-EU students who do not have a German or EU passport. So far they could rely on the ‘list of travellers’, a document that allowed them to enter the country without a visa if they were part of a school group. But the UK government has abolished that too.

As a result, around 5-10% of students will now have to apply for a visa, adding even more costs, the letter said.

A similar letter was sent to UK authorities by French travel agents, the Financial Times reported. There are about 10,000 groups, or 500,000 students, travelling from France to the UK each year.

In Germany, France and several other EU countries schools have a policy of only sending students on a trip if everyone can afford it, so for many classes a visit to London, Edinburgh, Stonehenge, Stratford upon Avon or Canterbury will no longer be a “viable option”, the groups warned.

The associations called on the UK government to reinstate the ‘list of travelers’ and allow students to continue using IDs.

“These trips are vital in order to foster intercultural understanding and reduce prejudices, forge life-long connections with the UK, increase the tolerance for people, cultures and different ways of living and thinking,” Dobbert wrote.

But according to the Financial Times, the Home Office only offered in response a Collective Passport, which is not widely used and that will not be reciprocated by several EU member states.

Likely loss of tourists

Beyond school trips, the wider tourism industry is likely to feel the impact of the new policy.

In spring VisitBritain, the national tourism organisation, conducted an international survey and asked Europeans in 8 countries how they would deal with the passport requirement.

Of those surveyed, 69% said they own a passport, 19% said they do not own a passport but would get one to travel to the UK, and 8% said they do not own a passport and would stop travelling to the UK. This share rises to 11% in Italy and 10% in Germany and the Netherlands, while it is 5% in Spain and Sweden and 6% in Poland.

The UK receives each year about 25 million people visits from the EU, about 61% of the total and 37% of all tourism spending. An 8% reduction would mean a drop of 2 million visits.

“We will be launching a campaign in the coming months across our major European markets highlighting messages of welcome and reassurance and our in-market teams are working closely with travel trade partners to ensure European travellers are up-to-date on the practicalities of travel,” a VisitBritain spokesperson said.

“We also want to send a strong message that, alongside our breath-taking landscapes, world-famous culture, rich heritage and vibrant cities, there is a very warm British welcome waiting for when visitors can return,” the group added.

Some groups can still use identity cards

Not everyone, however, will be asked a passport when crossing the border. Some groups can continue travelling to the UK with an identity card until at least 31 December 2025, the government says.

These include citizens from the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland who have settled or pre-settled status in the UK, have applied for settled status and are waiting for a decision, have an EU settlement scheme family permit or a frontier worker permit, need healthcare treatment (S2 healthcare visitors) or are Swiss and have a service provider visa from Switzerland.

The Home Office also specifies that Irish citizens can continue using a passport card and British citizens can continue using a Gibraltar identity card to travel to the UK.

EU, EEA and Swiss citizens travelling from Ireland to Northern Ireland via land will not pass through border checks but could be asked to show the passport if encountered by Border Force, the government says.

Non-EU countries that accept ID cards

Why are identity cards more popular than passports across Europe? While the UK does not have an identity card system, most countries of the European Economic Area issue identity cards to their citizens, who can use them both nationally and for international travel.

Denmark, Iceland and Ireland are the exceptions. Ireland issues a passport card that can be used to travel in the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. Denmark and Iceland issue identity cards that are used nationally but are not valid for travel.

Since August 2nd, EU and EEA countries are issuing identity cards in a new common format with improved security features.

Some non-EU countries also accept European identity cards as valid travel documents. These include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Svalbard, Georgia (excluding Abkhazia/South Ossetia), Moldova, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City and the French Overseas Territories.

Others accept ID cards from some EU member states for short stays. Turkey, for instance, allows citizens from Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland to enter with an ID card.

Egypt does the same for Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Portugal. Tunisia allows nationals of Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland to enter with an ID card if they are part of an organised tour. Gambia accepts Belgian IDs.

“ID card ownership is much more widespread than passport ownership,” says a European Commission working document. As they are cheaper than passports and are widely accepted abroad, many Europeans only ever use ID cards to go on holiday.

Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved

Photo via Unsplash

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