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Worried ‘Brexpats’ sign up for Spanish citizenship classes

British expats living in Spain who are worried about the effects of Brexit are signing up for courses to become Spanish citizens when the UK leaves the European Union.

Worried 'Brexpats' sign up for Spanish citizenship classes
Photo: Patrick Dobeson/Flickr

A language academy in Mijas on the Costa del Sol has become the first centre to officially offer a special “Brexpats Spanish Nationality Course”.

The Parnell Academy is starting a course next week to teach the sort of “general knowledge” required to pass the Spanish nationality test alongside Spanish language to ensure applicants reach the necessary A2 standard.

“A lot of people who live in this area have expressed concern about how they will be affected by Brexit, what implications will it have on their right to live here, on healthcare, pensions,” Anne Hernandez, the founder of the Brexpats in Spain, an association formed in the wake of the Brexit vote to represent expat interests, told the Local.

“Many of us are seriously considering adopting Spanish citizenship but it isn’t simply a case of living here for over ten years. You need to have a decent level of Spanish and to pass a citizenship test requiring social, historical, geographical, political and even sporting knowledge about Spain,” she said.  

“Even some of Spanish friends said they would struggle to get all the answers right,” she added.

After so many enquiries on how to pass the test, the association approached the Parnell Academy to devise a course especially for 'Brexpats'.

READ MORE: Worried about Brexit? Here's how to become Spanish

“It doesn’t matter how long you have lived here and how integrated you might be, you will still need to study for the test,” explained Natasha Parnell, director at Parnell Academy.

“Questions range from legal opening hours of businesses in Spain, to knowledge of national holidays and the different sort of climates that exist across Spain. And then there is sporting knowledge and questions on how our political system works,” she said.

And Brexit may seem like a long way off but those considering taking Spanish nationality are advised to start studying as soon as possible.

“We offer two one-hour classes a week of combined Spanish and general knowledge for the test,” explains Parnell, who runs the language academy with her father.

“Of course it depends entirely on the student but if you were a complete beginner at Spanish I would say it could take between two and three years before you would be competent to take the test”.

In the aftermath of the June 23rd referendum British expats have been circulating a petition calling on the Spanish government to revise conditions required for Spanish citizenship.

The petition launched by Giles Tremlett and William Chislett asks the Spanish government to allow Brits who have lived in Spain for more than ten years dual citizenship – the current law requires those who adopt Spanish nationality to renounce their former nationality.

“Lots of people have already expressed an interest in doing the course even if, in the end they choose not to become Spanish.  I think it is really important to integrate and this course will help people do that,” said Hernandez, who is from the UK but moved to Spain and married a Spaniard.

“Brits in Spain seem to have the honorary title of 'expats' that marks us out as something different from 'immigrants'. But that is what we are and so would should make every effort to integrate out of respect for our new host country.”

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BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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