Since the British government decided to end freedom of movement within the EU for its citizens, most Brits now require a visa or work permit if they wish to move to France.
This was already the case for Americans, Canadians and Australians, leaving the Irish or people with dual nationality as the only native English speakers who can move to France under EU freedom of movement without needing complicated paperwork.
Many business such as ski resorts now advertise for EU passport holders only, filling the gaps left by vanishing Brits is proving more complicated for private language schools, which often promise clients they will be taught by native English speakers.
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And companies outside of Paris have found it particularly difficult. Isabelle Huart, manager of the Berlitz language centre in Lille, told The Local it had become “practically impossible” to recruit native English speakers.
“I would like to recruit Brits, but it’s complicated, there’s nobody,” she said.
With demand for adult classes returning to normal in September following months of Covid disruption, Huart said she hoped to recruit three or four native speakers for face-to-face classes, but applications have come to a halt. “If I have two more tomorrow, I’ll hire them on the spot,” she said.
Berlitz recruits English speakers from all over the globe, but was used to hiring Brits who, along with Irish citizens, were able to live in France without a visa.
“Before, I didn’t differentiate between England, Ireland, Scotland… To me, it was a single unit, and now I find myself saying, ‘No, I’d like an Irish person’.”
Luisa Miller set up the Enjoy English language school in Montpellier with her husband in 2010. She said many of her employees decided to return to the UK, first because of Brexit, and then due to the Covid pandemic, and there has been no new wave of Brits coming to replace them.
The gaps are mainly for English speakers to accompany children on extracurricular activities on Wednesdays, Saturdays and during school holidays, roles usually performed by young graduates or students looking to learn French and discover the country.
“That has completely dried up. I’ve had pretty much no CVs from Britain for at least a year and a half.”
With the usual word-of-mouth method no longer working, the business has taken to advertising on recruitment sites for the first time.
“Now, instead of receiving so many CVs I don’t always reply unless I have an opening, any CV I do get sent is very carefully filed away and I try to interview people as soon as possible.
“One of the promises we make to parents is that the teachers are native anglophones,” Miller added.
Brexit or Covid?
In 2018, Enjoy English took the major step of opening a bilingual primary school in Montpellier, but the combination of Brexit and Covid has also had an effect on student numbers.
“Montpellier is a big research, scientific and medical centre,” Miller said. “We have families from London, etc., but all of that has stopped. I’m hoping it will start again, but for the moment there are no applications from families moving from the UK.”
And it’s not just people who no longer enjoy freedom of movement.
Miller was accustomed to using “British suppliers for food, some types of biscuits for the children to have that immersive feeling, as well as a lot of textbooks and story books”, but these have all been disrupted by Brexit, frustrations which will be familiar to many Brits living in France.
“I’m reduced to having to use just Amazon because of customs charges and delays.”
For those Brits who were already in France before December 31st 2020, things are more straightforward, since the Withdrawal Agreement means they are entitled to a carte de séjour residency permit.
Therefore companies that have a lower staff turnover have encountered fewer issues. Like English Room 101 in Paris, whose teachers have all received their residency cards.
“People who are here teaching have already been set up as an autoentrepreneur [self-employed], a status they’ve had for a while, and Brexit hasn’t changed that,” said president and co-founder Lee Mitchell.
“We’re not a huge school so haven’t had many problems,” he added. “As the company expands and we need to look for more teachers I might encounter issues.”
But another mitigating factor is the way a lot of language teaching has moved online during the pandemic, a method English Room 101 will continue to make the most of for the foreseeable future.
According to Mitchell, 95 percent of classes booked through the compte personnel de formation – the state allowance every employee in France is given to spend on professional training – now take place via video, which he says has changed things for the better.
“It means teachers can be employed from anywhere in the world. It’s often difficult to find teachers after 6-7pm at night when people finish work, but we can find teachers from other countries, and it could be morning for them.”
Lucy Allardyce, director of studies at Araxi Formations, agreed that this was one positive outcome of the pandemic. “Even if some trainers have left because of Brexit, we’ve been able to compensate by drawing on people from all over France,” she told The Local. Although the company continues to recruit only France-based teachers, online lessons mean they do not necessarily need to live in Paris, where most of Araxi’s clients are based.
“More and more face-to-face lessons are coming back, so potentially we will have a problem with recruitment,” she said, adding that video classes will nonetheless continue to be far more prevalent than they were before 2020.
In fact, according to Allardyce, the biggest challenge in terms of recruitment has nothing to do with Brexit or Covid.
“We’ve had quite a few trainers retire in the last few years and we’re not seeing young trainers coming in. That could be Brexit related but I think it’s more related to the cost of living in Paris,” she said. “Word is getting round that Paris is unaffordable for teachers.”
While most applicants are already based in France, Allardyce said she even raises the issues of the cost of living and the difficulty of finding an apartment in the capital when people do apply from abroad. “I try very hard to dissuade them. Unless they’re joining family or marrying a French person, it’d be a nightmare for them.”