Guest author Raisa McNab, CEO at the Association of Translation Companies (ATC), writes about the impact of Brexit and the new immigration rules on the UK’s language services.


It’s safe to say that the EU’s freedom of movement has given me a huge deal. I’m Finnish but I came to the UK in 2003 from France where I worked as a receptionist at a hotel in Nice, as you do when you’re in your twenties and have just finished your degree in translation and interpreting, but don’t really know what to do with your life.

Before that summer in Nice, I’d already spent another one in the UK and one in the south of France, as well as a semester as an Erasmus student at the Université de Pay et des Pays de L’Adour in the Pyrenees.

In 2003, freedom of movement allowed me to pack my rucksack in Nice and move to Southampton to start work at a translation company specialising in the Nordic languages.

For the past 18 years, the UK has been home to me, and I’m sorry that my dual-national daughter’s school friends won’t have the same easy chances as she does, and as I did, to explore Europe and make a life freely where they feel at home.

But beyond the life choices of the next generation, as CEO at the Association of Translation Companies, I’m concerned about how post-Brexit immigration rules affect the language services industry.

The ATC’s members are companies who continue to employ people like me, native speakers of different languages working as multilingual project managers and in-house translators, helping UK businesses go global.

Ours is an industry that keeps the wheels of international trade lubricated, and we want to be able to continue to do that in the UK in the years to come.

In 2021, companies employing staff from the EU must get to grips with the Skilled Worker visa scheme, and our partnership with Truth Legal and our close collaboration with its Head of Immigration Louis MacWilliam allows us to smooth that path.

But for many of the ATC’s member companies, the decision to continue to employ staff from outside the UK will come after careful consideration, weighing sponsorship licence and visa costs against the option of employing staff elsewhere in the world.

Ours is also an industry that enables multilingual communication in over 300 languages in Britain’s public services, ensuring that the police, the NHS and the justice system have access to the language support they need, when they need it. These are the services which largely depend on the expertise of  qualified and experienced interpreters working as freelancers.

In 2021, no UK immigration route into the UK exists for freelance translators or interpreters, and although the latest recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee include interpreters on the Shortage Occupation List, no changes have yet been implemented by the Government.

The language services industry is of course by no means unique in trying to make the best out of a difficult situation. But perhaps more than others, it’s clear that a multilingual, multinational industry cannot thrive in the UK without native speakers of different languages.

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Catherine Reynolds
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