Expat Britons abroad face loss of rights

There are hundreds of thousands of Britons currently living abroad in countries within the EU, and thousands of these face a looming deadline to secure their residency rights post-Brexit.

Under the terms of the withdrawal agreement, UK citizens who were legally resident in one of the EU’s 27 member states at the end of the transition period on 31st December last year are eligible for permanent residence, which would protect their basic rights. However, when the UK left Europe, the Bloc was divided into two categories: 14 countries, including Italy and Spain, automatically granted residency rights to British nationals who were lawfully settled in their countries; the remaining 13 meanwhile require British citizens to apply for right-to-remain status — and the deadline for doing so is fast approaching.

There are some 298,000 British people currently living permanently in these 13 countries; however, only approximately 190,000 people had completed their registration by the start of June. With the deadline in some of these countries currently fixed at 30th June, this obviously comes as a concern.

Among the countries that require applications are France, Luxembourg, Latvia and Malta; all of these carry the June 30th deadline. Obviously some countries will have more resident Britons than others, and half of the almost 300,000 mentioned above are in France; and yet of these 150,000, almost 26,000 are thought to be unregistered so far. Meanwhile, Malta is thought to have over 5,000.

In Luxembourg there are thought to be 1,700 people yet to register, while Latvia could have 800 more. The Netherlands has a later deadline than these countries, with people having to register by October 1st; however, they do have 3,000 Britons yet to register their status.

Elsewhere there are around 12,000 unregistered British nationals in Finland and Sweden, which have 30th September deadlines. The cutoff date in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia is 31st December.

The concern is that these individuals may well end up losing their rights after the deadline has passed — and some of them may not even be aware of the fact, due to a lack of communication from both UK and EU countries.

Michaela Benson, professor of public sociology at Lancaster University, specialises in British residents of the EU. She called it a ‘hard deadline, after which a lot of people could lose their rights’ when speaking to The Guardian recently, before going on to explain that some may miss out unwittingly. She explained: “We urgently need more communication — from the UK, the EU and member states — to get in touch, especially with hard-to-reach, vulnerable UK citizens who risk missing a vital cut-off point.”

Benson added: “The ones to worry about are those who are just scraping by, perhaps in remote areas. They are not likely to come forward of their own accord.

“There will also be homeless British people, sick British people, British children in care”.

Benson also explained that the numbers above were approximate, and said that since most were based on data from 2018 and some EU states, such as France, had never required EU residents to register with authorities in order to qualify for public services, they may have significantly underestimated the numbers of Britons living there. This could mean a much bigger cohort of people facing a situation where their rights are lost — and soon.

“[France] may well have many more British residents than it imagines, just as the UK had many more EU residents than it thought,” she said.

“It also makes it much harder to reach them than in places like the Netherlands with up-to-date registers.”

According to the EU’s post-Brexit guidance, ‘failure to apply in time … may lead to a loss of any entitlement under the withdrawal agreement’ in the 13 countries with constitutive systems. Such entitlements may include the right to continue living in them.

In a report dated 28 April this year, the EU/UK joint committee on citizens’ rights said an estimated 762,000 UK citizens live in EU countries with automatic, or ‘declaratory’, systems for post-Brexit residence status, and nearly 165,000 have registered so far. Although several countries are still encouraging people to register their status — and have set similar deadlines — the penalties for not doing so are much less severe, and amount to fines rather than any loss of rights or status. Meanwhile people from around the EU who are living in the UK also have to secure settled status by the June 30th deadline. This scheme is open to EU, EEA or Swiss citizens who were living in the UK before December 31st, 2020. After that cut-off date, Europeans who want to live and work in the UK will have to apply through the new post-Brexit immigration system.

The Home Office released figures showing that, in the past two years, more than 5.4 million people have applied for settled status; of the applications processed to date, 53 per cent were granted outright, while 44 per cent were given ‘pre-settled status’ which lasts for five years and can lead to permanent settled status.

At the end of May, the UK and the EU officials on the citizens’ rights committee released a joint statement saying: “The UK and the EU recalled that EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in France, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta and the Netherlands need to apply for a new residence status by June 30, 2021, in order to be protected by the withdrawal agreement.

“The UK and the EU also emphasised the importance of providing clear communications and comprehensive support to vulnerable or hard-to-reach citizens. Public and non-public bodies must also work to ensure that beneficiaries of the withdrawal agreement are able to enjoy their rights and entitlements, particularly when accessing benefits and services and exercising their right to work, rent and study.”

Home Office figures from around the same time revealed that almost seven times as many visa applications came from Hong Kong citizens than people from Europe during the first three months of 2021. The British government’s bespoke five-year visa for British National Overseas (BNO) visitors saw 34,400 applications from people from Hong Kong during February and March alone.

This change in immigration trends is marked, and comes after the UK received 176,910 applications for citizenship in the 12 months to March this year — seven per cent higher than in the previous 12 months.

If you are unsure of how to register as resident in the EU, consider contacting an independent adviser with expertise in living and working abroad.

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