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Working a Season: The Post EU Realities and Opportunities

Updated: May 3

Working a ski season has been a rite of passage for young people stretching back generations. The opportunity to live in the mountains, often without adult supervision, is alluring to people of all ages, and the experience learned sets you up for life.

 

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Since Britain left the European Union (I refused to use the word "B*****", I've always considered it ugly in a way), it has become undoubtedly more difficult for young people to experience the same opportunities. It must be said that not all of this is as a result of new limitations on the freedom of movement, the remarkable coincidence of the COVID-19 pandemic ushering in a complete step change in the way the industry does business.


There remain opportunities a-plenty for young people to work in the EU in a post-EU world, as well as for those looking to buy property and move out to the EU. The focus of this piece will be on France, as this is where a vast majority of UK skiers go - over 55% according to the most recent data available from the Ski Club of Great Britain. This is also the country that has the most restrictive employment laws and the most hoops that have to be jumped through.


With the season coming to an end, it might seem like an inopportune moment to discuss preparing for the next one. But with the job hunting process becoming longer it pays to be prepared well in advance.


So let's dive into the realities and opportunities of living and working in a post-EU and post-COVID world.


 
The Realities

Living and working in the EU is now much more difficult than it was before. Freedom of movement previously afforded to UK citizens whilst the UK was part of the EU has ended, meaning, in order to spend more than 90 days of any six month rolling block inside the EU you will need a visa.


The exception to this is if you qualify for an EU passport, Irish being the most prominent example. The Republic of Ireland has some of the simplest mechanisms for claiming a passport for non-Irish citizens, including those born in Northern Ireland or those with a parent or grandparent born in Ireland. Ireland has also facilitated this with the creation of the Foreign Births Register and waiving restrictions relating to residency requirements, making the application process comparatively easy.


Depending on why you want to enter the EU for more than 90 days of any 180 day block (referred to as the 90/180 rule from here on out), you will need a different visa. For residential purposes, such as buying a house in the Alps and living there for the whole season, it is a relatively simple process. But for those looking to work, you will require a work visa, and the company employing you must also hold a work permit for you, as well as completing a series of other steps along the way.


 
The Impact of COVID-19

It can be very easy to blame the collapse of the traditional chalet and chalet-hotel market on the B-word and the availability - or lack thereof - of staff.


However, Britain leaving the EU occurred at the same time as COVID wiped out an entire season and a half, and left another with the industry utterly overwhelmed - I know, I was there. The ski industry, particularly seasonnaire roles, have always been underpaid and overworked, sustained by the opportunity to live in the mountains and ski all season long, and with the fundamental shift in the job market that occurred during this period it is perhaps no surprise that this employment model has collapsed.


As costs have risen more generally in the post-COVID inflationary era, tour operators have looked to find ways to save money across the board. The lessons learned from COVID have meant many have carried on their models of self-catered chalets, or disposed of their chalets altogether. Inghams, an icon of the British ski market, announced earlier this season that it is in the process of selling all of its chalets across the Alps.


So whilst it might be easy to blame leaving the EU on the end of the ski season, this idea is flawed for two reasons - it's not all B*****'s fault, and rumours of the ski season's death have been greatly exaggerated ...



 
Opportunities

With all this talk of doom and gloom, is there any light at the end of the tunnel?


Yes. Quite a lot actually.


Firstly, if you are looking to work a season, there are several steps you need to follow. Firstly, find a company that still employs British seasonnaires in the mountains. A really good place to start is with SBiT (Seasonal Businesses in Travel), who are a lobbying group that have done a phenomenal amount of work lobbying the French and British governments to make it easier to work abroad in seasonal roles.


Their members are generally those who remain committed to employing Brits abroad. Not all of them will do so, instead just hanging around for updates and advice, but a comb through their membership list will be the ideal place to being your search for work for the coming season.


Secondly, SBiT have been brilliant at breaking down the process that you and your employer have to go through, so you know fully the hoops to jump through. These roughly include the following:


  1. An employer must advertise the job in France for 2-6 weeks; only once this has been done can they actively employ you and begin the process in 2. onwards

  2. Employer applies for a work permit to employ you; since 2023 SBiT have confirmation from the French government that they will not deny work permits for seasonal workers

  3. Once the permit is approved, you apply for a work visa, including a self-translated birth certificate (use SBiT template) and a medical certificate issued in an e-consult (since 2023, before it was an expensive full medical exam - another SBiT win!)

  4. Work your season! At some point you will need to visit the local government office to collect your CDS (Carte du sejour, seasonal workers permit card).


This is a massively simplified and now guaranteed process, thanks to SBiT's lobbying work. Draconian regulations requiring thorough medical check ups and multiple trips to local government offices have gone, and the French government and visa offices now work quickly to process season worker applications. It's not as efficient as freedom of movement, but its a darn sight quicker and easier than it could be!


If you are living abroad without working, it's even easier. Book an appointment at a visa centre and turn up with proof of accommodation, proof of funds, and medical insurance for the year, and away you go.


 

Thanks to Britain leaving the European Union and the structural changes in the skiing market brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, opportunities to work a ski season have become more limited. But their are opportunities out there, and they are comparatively easy to take advantage of. With a bit of forward planning and research, you can ensure you take to the slopes and enjoy a season in the mountains!


SBiT are continuing their lobbying work, with the ultimate goal of creating a "youth mobility scheme", similar to working holiday schemes available between several Commonwealth countries such as Canada, the UK, and Australia. You can find out more on their website.



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