Boost for language schools and town’s vital ‘hidden’ economy

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LANGUAGE schools are celebrating a change in policy which could protect the multi-million pound study-tourism industry.

Tens of thousands of students visit Hastings each year from abroad, generating more than £20million for local businesses.

Many of those youngsters come from outside the European Union (EU), meaning they require student visas to be allowed to stay.

Hastings currently has 19 language schools, many of which were hit hard by a change in the law which ruled visiting pupils must have at least an AS Level grasp of English. And in most cases the length of visas was also limited to six months.

Now though, thanks largely to a campaign led by Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd, the Government has announced it plans to scrap existing guidelines and replace them with a fairer set of rules.

Students visiting from outside the EU will now be eligible for 11 month long study visas and the unpopular AS Level condition will be dropped.

According to Sue Mendousse, who helps run the Hastings English Language Centre (HELC) in St Helens Park Road, the changes would provide a timely boost for the local firms.

She said: “The rules had hit schools hard. Many of our students come from Asia or the Middle East - the whole reason they come here is to learn English, so many did not qualify for the AS Level part of the visa requirements.

“That rule almost robbed us of our raison d’etre.

“Hopefully, if the new guidelines are implemented the way the Government says they will be, it will make it a lot easier for language schools.”

The HELC welcomes more than 800 students a year and Miss Mendousse said the contribution made by hers and similar schools was vital to the town.

“It is something of a hidden economy,” she said.

“Students bring a lot of money into the town and as well as the financial impact they also make life long friends with local families and add to the town’s culture.”