OPINION: Imagine if Spain reciprocated the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system

The UK is making European immigration more difficult and much less appealing and this is exactly what the Brexiters wanted, writes Bremain in Spain's Sue Wilson. But imagine if Spain decided to do the same thing?

OPINION: Imagine if Spain reciprocated the UK's post-Brexit immigration system
Photo: AFP

When the UK's new government immigration policy was announced last week, the reaction from the British public, and the media, was mixed.

Those who supported leaving the European Union, especially on the grounds of immigration, were naturally delighted. This was, after all, what they voted for – taking back control of UK borders.

The response from businesses and industries, which are reliant on migrant workers, was rather different. Sectors such as hospitality and farming have long relied on European labour to fill roles that British citizens show no interest in filling.

The care industry in particular – which is already in crisis – is heavily staffed with qualified European carers. Industry leaders said that the new immigration rules could “spell absolute disaster” for the British care system.

European immigrants have often been blamed for low wages in Britain. This argument is used by those in favour of tighter restrictions, despite no supporting evidence.

The government and employers determine pay levels, rather than employees forced to accept lower wages. If those low wage levels were regarded as such an issue by the government, why has it done so little to resolve the problem during its 10 years in power?

Under the new Australian styled points-based system, new European migrants would have many more hurdles to overcome to live and work in the UK. The requirements include a minimum salary level of £25,600, minimum ‘A’-level qualifications, a job and a “required level” of English.

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

The new points system was unveiled by Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel (pictured above with Prime Minister Boris Johnson), Photo: AFP 

Many British citizens living in the UK, and across Europe, are horrified by this new government approach to immigration. The hostile environment, encouraged by the Home Office, has already given licence to anti-immigrant sentiment and behaviour.

That atmosphere is already deterring Europeans from moving to the UK. The new immigration policy will only fuel feelings of being unwanted and unwelcome.

Brits living in the EU, while concerned for our European counterparts in the UK, are naturally worried about potential knock-on effects, should European countries choose to reciprocate.

For those already living in Spain, there’s a concern over official registration.

European citizens living in the UK have to apply for ‘settled status’, regardless of how long they have lived there. Rather than a simple registration system, they must apply to stay.

Too many applications have been rejected, or instead, a lower ‘pre-settled status’ has been granted. The UK government have also refused repeated calls to provide documentary evidence of an EU immigrant’s status, making it impossible for EU citizens to prove their legal right to stay when employers and landlords enquire.

Thankfully, in Spain, we are not being asked to apply for a status we already possess. Hopefully, we never will be.

For those considering moving to Spain, would they still do so if Spain chose to reciprocate regarding its own immigration policy?

If doors were closed to the self-employed in Spain, or there was a requirement to speak Spanish before being allowed entry, many would-be immigrants would have to reconsider their plans.

Thankfully the Spanish authorities have continued to be welcoming and supportive. The recent launch of the ‘060’ Brexit hotline is a good example.

Brits can call the helpline to ask Brexit-related queries – about healthcare, residency, driving licences etc. – and to choose Spanish or English responses. We can only hope that any helpline designed to support EU citizens in the UK has alternative language options to English, English or English.

Xenophobic attacks on EU citizens in the UK, who dare to speak with friends or family in their native language in public, are frightening and shameful. I have yet to hear of a single example of a British citizen in Spain being told to speak Spanish.

Of course it makes sense to learn English if you want to live and work in the UK, but the best way to learn is by being surrounded by the language and culture. Europeans wanting to improve their English in the future will likely head for Dublin, rather than London.

Naturally, there has been criticism of Brits living in Spain, in some cases for decades, making no effort to learn the language.

Whilst some Brits surround themselves with British neighbours, bars, pastimes and facilities, the majority want to integrate and get the most out of their surroundings.

My Spanish may not be perfect, but my efforts to improve it are rewarded with a richer experience of Spanish life, and a better understanding of the country I call home.

The UK is making European immigration more difficult and much less appealing and this is exactly what the Brexiters wanted.

The policy will make Britain poorer – not just economically but socially and culturally too. Europeans have helped shape British culture, making it more diverse, open and tolerant. Undoing all that growth and development seems a price that the government is willing to pay to “take back control”.

Let’s hope the Spanish government never decide to reciprocate.

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain


Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.