UK students travelling to Spain face visa delays

Some 4,500 UK students go to Spain each year. Brexit means that UK students now have to apply for a student visa before they are able to study in Spain.  

“I think there are a lot of students and their parents who are increasingly anxious”

However, there have been delays as Spanish authorities try to process visa applications – students told The BBC that they have been waiting for more than a month for visa appointments.

Now UUKi has written to the Spanish embassy and the Foreign Office, asking if students can apply in Spain. Speaking on BBC Radio 4 UUKi’s director Vivienne Stern said that students are getting “increasingly desperate”. 

“I think there are a lot of students and their parents who are increasingly anxious, and we’re starting to hear about students who are cancelling their plans to study abroad as a result,” she said. 

“It’s a new process for UK universities as well as for the Spanish authorities dealing with this huge demand, which is all very concentrated around a short period of time. 

“I expect everybody is going to kind of get used to this. But it is frustrating that at the moment what we’ve got is lots of universities or individual students contacting the Spanish embassy, contacting other Spanish authorities and not being able to get a response. And that includes us. We’ve written to the consul general and we haven’t had a response,” Stern added. 

Some students now feel they are running out of time. Sam Downes, an economics student with a place to study in Granada, southern Spain, told The BBC that he has heard nothing since he asked for a visa appointment in June.

“I paid September’s rent for my accommodation and my deposit – but it’s looking unlikely that I’ll be going in time,” he said.

The university in Granada has said it cannot offer him online learning if he does not arrive in time.

“So in the next week or two I might have to decide whether to cancel the whole year abroad,” Downes added.

A UK government spokesperson said visa applications were a matter for Spanish immigration authorities, but added it had raised the issue with the Spanish government.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Spain added that this is the first academic year that student visas are needed after Brexit; therefore, British students and universities need to get used to the new regulation and the necessity of applying for a visa, and some adaptation time is still needed.

“All Spanish consulates are offering all the facilities in order to speed up the visa procedures,” the spokesperson said.

“It’s simply not acceptable that the government is telling students to take it up with the Spanish authorities”

Some have said that more should have been done to ensure a process was in place so that students could get to their study destination. 

“This feels incredibly unfair and is putting unnecessary stress on students who have already been through so much,” said Tom Wilmot, vice president of university partnerships at education consultancy Studee.

“Students work so hard to gain places in universities abroad, and the prospect of moving to a different country on your own can be daunting enough without these unnecessary added stresses. 

“It’s simply not acceptable that the government is telling students to take it up with the Spanish authorities.” 

Wilmot noted that this is the first year students have had to “jump through hoops” to be able to study in Europe and a process should have been put in place to ensure all students could get to their study destination in time for the start of term. 

In late 2020, the UK confirmed it will no longer be part of Erasmus+ and would introduce a new replacement mobility scheme, the Turing Scheme.

“There needs to be support and guidance available to ensure that students get to the countries they will be studying in to gain the education they want and deserve,” he added. 

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