The prospect of a year abroad is an exciting and necessary part of a university degree for many students.
However, this year for British students the complications triggered by Brexit have meant that what was previously a straightforward process to study in the EU has been tainted for the first time by the stress of attempting to secure a study visa.
With many having to delay or cancel their plans entirely due to bureaucratic delays, this process is proving to be both financially and emotionally taxing.
Katie Watson (not her real name) who is studying Spanish at a university in the south of England and wishes to remain anonymous, unsuccessfully explored multiple avenues in her attempt to obtain an internship visa to work in Spain.
Beginning the application process in April, she was one of the first students at her university to apply for the documentation.
She told SURin English, “The information on the [Spanish] consulate website, particularly surrounding the requirements for a visa application, was significantly lacking,” which was coupled with a distinct lack of support from her university in the UK.
It was an expensive and lengthy process which Katie estimates cost her 500 pounds (about 580 euros).
One element was particularly troublesome to obtain: proof that she did not have a criminal record in the UK, a request unheard of pre-Brexit.
The document demanded a sworn translation and legalisation, which took weeks to come back.
Then began the obstacle of obtaining a ‘resolución de autorización para prácticas’, which the Spanish authorities stated was needed for work experience but didn’t say what it was or where to get it, she said.
Eventually the application was submitted but was rejected due to “invalid” health insurance (though Katie maintains that it was perfectly valid).
Given 10 days to appeal, her updated documents were sent on the ninth day, however she received an email saying they were submitted too late.
She then asked to appeal that and was told that they would be looking at appeals from January next year.
Drained, and faced with the possibility of not being able to make it abroad at all, Katie was advised by the lawyer from her place of work to do an unpaid internship for less than 90 days, removing the necessity for an internship visa. She has since returned to the UK.
She said, “This has become the reality for British students who want to work in Spain.” For those who wish to study, the process is marginally more straightforward, but just as time consuming.
A University of Glasgow student who is still in the UKwaiting a study visa said, “My biggest issue is how long everything is taking to come back.”
Also wishing to remain anonymous for fear of affecting her application, she has so far spent 300 pounds attempting to acquire her study visa, facing significant delays.
The British legalisation office took a month to return her forms, which, to her dismay, just contained a simple stamp. She is now in limbo waiting for Spain to issue the visa.
SUR in English spoke to David Walkden, the Senior Exchange Coordinator at Plymouth University, who said that of their seven students trying to get to Spain, “One is a Spanish citizen so had no problem; two went on tourist visas hoping to convert whilst there; two have deferred their mobilities; and two have reduced their mobility durations so that they could enter without visas. So a mixed bag and not at all satisfactory.”
Mirroring the sentiments of the students SUR in English spoke to, he explained, “The Spanish embassy in the UK was not helpful... Universities UK tried their best to intervene and engender a sense of importance in getting the matter resolved but didn’t appear to be taken seriously by either the UK or the Spanish government authorities.”
Despite this, he believes that this is a consequence of Britain’s own actions: “The Spanish embassy was not prepared to revise its visa procedures to accommodate the increased visa demand from UK citizens. And why should it? It was the UK’s decision to leave the EU after all and these are the additional burdens and consequences that occur as a result.”
Sixty-eight students were due to come to Malaga University this term from the UK, and while the university recognised that some were experiencing delays with their visas, they echoed the advice from the Spanish authorities to obtain the appropriate paperwork and not travel as a tourist to study.
With their degrees in the hands of bureaucratic processes, it remains to be seen whether these students, who are eligible to receive the Erasmus grant for a final year before the transition to the replacement Turing Scheme, will be able to experience their ‘years abroad’.