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Brexit: What the Agreement Means for Harvard Travelers and Projects

People walking on a crowded London street in the rain, holding umbrellas

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Brexit officially and finally happened. Review the key points of the UK-EU agreement and its effects on immigration, employment, education exchange, and research.

Agreement Reached Days Before Deadline

Debate and delay have been hallmarks of the UK and EU’s Brexit negotiations. Although the UK technically left the EU at the end of January 2020, the two sides negotiated the terms of their agreement until just days before the transition period deadline. The EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement went into effect on December 31, 2020.

In addition to negotiating trade and security arrangements with the EU, the UK has developed new legislation and administrative structures responsible for areas once managed by the EU. The UK is still working through implementation of certain regulations and programs, and lasting impacts of the changes effective at the start of 2021 remain to be seen. Additionally, some changes may impact Northern Ireland differently than England, Scotland, and Wales given Northern Ireland’s shared land border with the Republic of Ireland and their historically sensitive relationship.

In the meantime, we’ll highlight key points of the UK-EU agreement and its potential implications for Harvard affiliated travel and projects.

Harvard's Presence in the UK and EU

The UK is a popular location for Harvard travelers and projects. It consistently ranks in the top 10 locations for Harvard trips, and our office fields dozens of inquiries every year about activities in the UK, ranging from hiring and visas to taxes and exports. Harvard Summer School typically runs a study abroad program in Oxford, and Harvard Business School Publishing, Harvard University Press, and Harvard Global (HG) all operate affiliated entities in London. Additionally, our office fields dozens of inquiries every year about activities in the U.K., ranging from hiring and visas to budgeting, taxes, and imports and exports.

Preparing for Brexit with an Irish Entity

In anticipation of the UK’s departure from the EU, HG established Harvard Global Research Support Centre Ireland in late 2020. HG Ireland enables us to maintain a legal presence in the EU, and it serves as the University’s representative in the EU to maintain compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation. Eventually, HG Ireland will enable us to provide additional services and operations to support Harvard activities in the EU.

Brexit Changes and Potential Implications for Harvard Affiliates

Travel and Employment

Brexit essentially restricts the freedom of movement for work, study, research, and tourism that previously existed between the UK and more than two dozen EU member nations. Competition for visas and work permits may increase, and employment will likely be more difficult between the UK and EU. As a result, programs may want to first consider hiring citizens of the country where the work is taking place to mitigate potential employment disruptions.

Remember: Visa and passport requirements vary by country, citizenship, length of stay, and purpose of travel. Carefully review your destination's requirements and plan well in advance.

For U.K. Citizens

UK citizens now must obtain visas for travel to EU countries for stays greater than 90 days, regardless of reason for travel. And, due to COVID-19 restrictions, any non-EU travelers (including UK residents) cannot visit the EU except for essential reasons. UK residents already living in the EU have certain protections but are advised to check for country specific rules; they may need to apply for residency, obtain new documentation, or meet specific criteria to stay in country. Automatic recognition of new professional UK qualifications (e.g. for medical, teaching, legal, and accounting sectors) are also eliminated, although prior recognitions will be honored.

The European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC), which allowed for state-provided medical coverage across the EU, will be replaced by a UK Global Health Insurance Card. The EHIC is valid until expiration, but travel insurance with medical coverage is encouraged, particularly for those with pre-existing conditions.

For E.U. Citizens

Most EU travelers do not need a UK visa for certain business and academic activities unless they plan to earn money in the UK. EU citizens wanting to work in the UK will have to apply and pay for a visa through a new, points-based immigration system that will treat EU and non-EU citizens the same.

The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) enables EU citizens in the UK prior to December 31, 2020 to apply for ‘Settled’ or ‘Pre-Settled’ status depending on how long they’ve lived in the UK. Both statuses enable work and study in the UK, travel in and out, and access to public funds.

Education, Research, and Student Support

Brexit has already begun to impact the UK’s ability to attract research funding. According to Royal Society, the UK’s annual share of EU funding has dropped by nearly a third since 2015. UK and EU universities anticipate sources of funding and their ability to collaborate to continue to be impacted. The UK is expected remain a part of Horizon Europe, the EU funding program promoting collaborative research and innovation, albeit with an associate membership that may come at added cost and eliminate certain benefits availed to EU members.

Under the EU-UK trade agreement, nearly all UK and EU students in those countries will see impacts to their academic and work exchange program options, eligibility for financial aid and funding, and visa and immigration requirements. Additionally, the UK will no longer participate in Erasmus, the EU’s program supporting education and training experiences at universities throughout the EU. The UK will replace its participation in Erasmus with a new study abroad program called the ‘Turing Scheme,’ enabling up to 35,000 UK students from diverse backgrounds to study at universities around the world.

Doing Business, Taxes, and Trade

The UK’s prior role as a “launchpad” for foreign organizations into the EU business world is diminishing. Global financial services firms have moved trillions of dollars of assets and thousands of jobs from Britain to the EU since 2016. The primary recipients of these assets and jobs are Dublin, Luxembourg, Frankfurt, and Paris. Positively, many UK domestic regulations (income tax, capital gains tax, corporation tax) are now untouched by EU influence, so it may still be simpler to do business in the UK than in EU member states, such as France and Germany.

The pound dropped to a 31-year low immediately following the vote for the UK to depart the EU, and the euro also experienced a dip. Although some stability has returned since, continued uncertainty could slow investment. Travelers and program managers should expect continued exchange rate fluctuations and budget with this volatility in mind.

Following Brexit, the UK is free to establish its own trade policy with other countries and can negotiate its own deals. Although there won’t be taxes or limits on goods that can be traded between the UK and the EU, there may be new safety checks, license requirements, VAT procedures, and customs declaration requirements at borders. Organizations should prepare for disruptions and delays as a result of these new procedures.

Stay Informed: Sources to Follow

Stay tuned for updates on the implementation of new and evolving regulations and their implications for the Harvard community.