The UK government is to sharply reduce post-Brexit border bureaucracy for French school trips as part of plans to revamp educational exchanges with Europe, which have plummeted since Britain left the EU.

Government insiders confirmed rules to be introduced in the coming months will allow children coming on school trips from France to use national identity cards, while rules requiring non-EU citizens to obtain a visa to travel with their classmates will be dropped.

The revised rules, which could be extended to other EU member states if successfully trialled, emerged after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Emmanuel Macron, president of France, pledged to “ease the travel” of school groups at a summit in March.

The educational travel industry has lobbied intensively for the changes after surveys showed school trips to the UK from the EU had fallen by up to two-thirds in the year after new post-Brexit border controls were introduced.

Emma English, the executive director of the British Educational Travel Association, said the industry — which BETA estimates is worth at least £1.5bn a year to the UK economy — would be pushing for implementation of the new rules as quickly as possible.

“This would be greatly, greatly welcomed from all sides of the industry,” she said. “It can’t come soon enough, and the sooner it can be rolled out to include other EU countries, the better for everyone.”

Daryl Taylor, the managing director of Linguastay, a UK homestay accommodation provider, said the initiative would help restore the UK’s position as a top destination for European youth groups but urged the government to move quickly. 

“It is a move that will enrich our country financially and culturally. It does, however, need to be rolled out urgently before the mindset of the organisers of such groups is fixed on the alternative destinations they have chosen over the past two years. We hope it’s not too late.”

Before Brexit, EU-based children on school trips were able to travel to the UK on a group visa using the bloc’s “list of travellers” scheme, with some using national ID cards instead of a passport.

After Brexit, the British government left the scheme and required all EU children to travel with a passport and all non-EU children living in the bloc to apply for a visa — a process that led to some children being left behind, and many schools to cancel their trips.

Schools reported “Kafkaesque” experiences at the hands of the UK Home Office, where children on fixed-price trips were denied visas for having insufficient funds or not having parental consent, despite appearing at interviews with their parents.

Edward Hisbergues, the director of PG Trips, a travel company with clients who suffered under the post-Brexit regime, said the changes would help to rehabilitate the UK’s reputation in the EU as a place of welcome.

“I am happy to know that no more children will be sidelined because of their nationality,” he said, “and I am happy to know that France and the United Kingdom are getting closer again. This will inevitably change the image of the country.”

The rules are expected to be introduced in the coming months and will require changes to existing legislation. They were drawn up after nine months of protracted negotiations in Whitehall, according to two insiders with knowledge of the discussion, while a third person said the outline of the deal could be agreed by year-end.

Under the changes French children will be able to use ID cards while non-EU children resident in France will require a passport, but not a visa, so long as they are travelling as part of an official school trip.

The Home Office said the rules enacted the pledge at the March summit to ease the travel of school groups to the UK by making changes to documentary requirements for school children on organised trips from France.

“Work is now well under way to introduce these arrangements, including making the legal changes necessary to deliver these changes,” a spokesperson added.

The Élysée Palace declined to comment.

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