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BREXIT

‘Doors will close for Brits in EU’: Why the UK’s post-Brexit immigration plan has sparked alarm

It's fair to say the UK government's planned new post-Brexit immigration system - with its language requirements and minimum salary levels for EU migrants - has sparked worry among British groups in Europe.

'Doors will close for Brits in EU': Why the UK's post-Brexit immigration plan has sparked alarm
Photo: AFP

The UK government announced its planned new immigration system this week and it immediately sparked concern for the future of those Britons who want to move to the EU in future.

The new points-based system to replace the freedom of movement which allowed EU nationals to move to freely to the UK will be implemented once the Brexit transition period comes to an end. That date is currently set for December 31st 2020, but it may be pushed back.

While Britons currently living in the EU and those who move before the end of the transition period are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement, it is unclear what the rules will be for future generations, although they will become third-country nationals.

But how easy it will be for Brits to move to France, Italy or Spain in future could depend on what kind of system the UK puts in place after Brexit, which is why many are concerned. Brits living in Europe now could face tough choices in the future and those hoping to move to the EU could find doors are closed.

The UK government said this week it wanted to take “full control” of its borders by installing an Australian-style points-based system, that would effectively close the doors to unskilled EU workers as well as those who can't speak English to the required standard.

In a statement the government said: “These new arrangements will take effect from January 1st 2021, once freedom of movement with the European Union (EU) has ended. It will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally and aims to attract people who can contribute to the UK’s economy.

“The points-based system will include a route for skilled workers who have a job offer from an approved employer sponsor. 

“From January 2021, the job you’re offered will need to be at a required skill level of RQF3 or above (equivalent to A level). You’ll also need to be able to speak English. The minimum general salary threshold will be reduced to £25,600.

And the government adds that there'll be no “immigration route specifically for low-skilled workers” or indeed for the self-employed.

There will also be language restrictions for students.

“Student visa routes will be opened up to EU, EEA and Swiss citizens.

“You’ll be able to apply for a visa to study in the UK if you: have been offered a place on a course, can speak, read, write and understand English and have enough money to support yourself and pay for your course.”

While the plans are for migrants heading to the UK, the strict rules are understandably a cause for concern for those British nationals who may want to move the other way in future or indeed move back to Britain with their EU partners.

Kalba Meadows from British in Europe told The Local that Brits living in Europe may be forced into a tough choice in future.

“For British nationals living in the EU with non British spouses or partners, it will effectively close off the possibility in future of returning to the UK to live unless they choose to leave their partner behind.

“What if they have elderly parents in the UK who need their care … do they really have to choose between partner and parents?”

While nothing has been announced by EU member states there are fears countries will follow the principle of reciprocity and it will therefore become much harder to move to the EU.

“It's inevitable that there will be knock on-effects of reciprocity,” said Meadows.

“We can expect British people wanting to move to France or other EU countries in future to have a much harder time of things.

“So many of us have moved to France, for example, over the last few years to start small businesses … with the UK now closing its doors to anyone wanting to be self-employed we might expect that door to be – if not closed completely to us – become decidedly sticky and difficult to open.”

Michael Harris from Eurocitizens in Spain said: “If Britain does decide to stop any freedom of movement from the EU after 01/01/21, this will obviously be reciprocal for Britons in the UK wanting to move to the EU – and there is very little we can do to stop it.”

Harris also points that the UK's stance will make it far less likely for the EU to agree to granting Brits already in the EU onward freedom of movement, which effectively landlocks Brits in the country they are in. 

British in Europe's Fiona Godfrey added: “This will have repercussions for UK nationals already living in the EU. We are still waiting for some countries to decide how they will register  us under the Withdrawal Agreement and this probably won’t help persuade them to choose the declaratory option rather than the re-registration option. 

“And, of course, it’s not going to help Brits who want or need to leave their host country to find work elsewhere in the EU if the member states reciprocate, which we expect them to do. 
 
“All in all, it’s more British exceptionalism, insularity and delusion. It would be embarrassing were it not for the fact that so many UK  lives and livelihoods in the EU, and EU lives and livelihoods in the UK are dependent on the UK government acting in good faith and treating EU nationals living there as assets to the country rather than units of “cheap labour.” The hostile environment has to stop.”
 
Paul Hearn from the organisation Brexpats Hear Our Voice told The Local: “I'd say that it is too early to suggest that any states would apply any different criteria to migrating UK citizens than they do to migrants from any other country.  Although the UK Government are proposing a different migration policy to that which currently exist in the UK, it is not specifically directed at the EU, but will apply to migrants from anywhere.  
 
“What is possible is that many states could review their policies to determine if there is any merit to be taken from tightening their systems along lines similar to the policy proposed for adoption in the UK from January 2021.
 
There were also concerns expressed by people on Twitter.
Much of the focus was on languages and how Brits hoping to move to the EU would struggle to meet any requirements if they were imposed by EU member states.
 
Fiona Harrison said: “Unfortunately this will also probably mean the Brits can’t work in the EU if arrangements are reciprocal. How many of us really speak languages? We rely on English being fairly universal.”
 
And Bruce Banner asked what the reaction would be if France and Spain forced all British people to speak French and Spanish before they moved. While most Britons do learn the local language it is more often than not only after they have made the move.

Over the coming months EU governments are due to announce their own criteria for post-Brexit immigration. 

Given the UK's planned system, it is no wonder so many Britons are reportedly rushing to move to the EU before the end of the transition period.

 

 

 

Member comments

  1. Funny enough most Europeans I know have a level of English good enough to meet the expected level required for post Brexit imigration into the UK, while most British people I know – back in the UK – have no second language skills and would find it difficult to meet the local language requirements (B1/B2) for imigration. Last year our daughter finished her “Bi-lingual Abi”, the entire class has English B2/C1 and French B2, on top of German naturally.

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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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