Britain has been swapping elderly expats for young Spanish workers

The number of British expats retiring in Spain has more than doubled in the past ten years, according to new official data.

Britain has been swapping elderly expats for young Spanish workers
A bar in Orihuela, which is home to the biggest proportion of British expats. Photo: AFP

And at the time of the Brexit referendum – when immigration became a key issue – there were more than twice as many Britons resident in Spain as Spaniards living in the UK.

And while Britain exports its over 65s to live out their days on the costas in the sun, those Spaniards moving in the opposite direction are younger and take up jobs in the education, healthcare and catering industries.

READ MORE: UK makes pension and healthcare pledge to expat Brits

A joint report published by the Office for National Statistics and Spain’s INE recorded that there were 296,000 British citizens who had been living in Spain for more than 12 months in 2016, and 40 percent of them are over 65.

Meanwhile the UK was home to an average of 116,000 Spanish people between 2013 and 2015, less than half the number of Brits making their home in Spain.

And while around 40 percent of Britons in Spain are retired, a figure that has more than doubled in the last decade, the Spaniards relocating to Britain are a whole lot younger.

Around half of the Spanish citizens resident in the UK are aged 20-39 and 59 percent of the total 116,000 have permanent employment.

READ ALSO: Expats or immigrants in Spain? Is there a difference? 

According to the report, 78 percent of Spaniards working in Britain are employed in three sectors; education and health; banking and finance; and hotels and restaurants.

The ONS/INE report is the first in a series commissioned in a bid to learn more about the British population in other EU countries in the run-up to Brexit.

The exact number of British expats living in Europe is unknown with estimates for those living in Spain ranging from the official 296,000 registered with their town halls up to 1 million who own property and spend a significant amount of time there..

Since the Brexit vote, Brits in Spain have feared being used as bargaining chips in negotiations and urged Theresa May’s government to set out clear guidelines concerning EU nationals living in the UK and their British counterparts living abroad.

In a speech to the British parliament on Monday, May laid out the UK’s offer to EU nationals living in the country after Brexit with key pledges on pensions and health that will be of interest to British nationals living in Spain and other EU countries.


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.