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BREXIT

Defeat for rights of Britons wanting to return from EU in future

A proposal to protect the family rights of British people in Europe returning to the UK has been voted down in the UK parliament.

Defeat for rights of Britons wanting to return from EU in future
Brits may be 'locked out' of the UK if their EU partner can't meet income requirements. Photo: AFP

While British people who move to live within the EU before December 31st 2020 are protected by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, this doesn't cover family reunification rights if they want to return to the UK.

So if British people now living in the EU and married to an EU national want at some point to return to the UK, their EU spouse will be subject to the UK's strict new immigration rules.

READ ALSO What is the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and does it cover me?

 

These include language and income requirements and mean that some British people face having to make a choice between their family in the UK and their European partner or spouse – those who return to the UK to care for family members for example may struggle to meet income requirements.

The citizens' rights group British in Europe has been supporting an amendment to the Immigration Bill that would allow Britons established in the EU before the end of the Brexit transition period to maintain the right to return to the UK with their European family members without them being subject to strict immigration rules and means tests.

However the amendment was defeated by a vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

A spokesman for British in Europe said: “We are of course disappointed by the result, and appreciated the support of all the peers who spoke up for us and especially Baroness Hamwee, who put the arguments so well and the amendment to a vote again.

“Obviously the government recognises the unfairness of this change, otherwise they wouldn’t have agreed to a grace period at all, although a three-year grace period that starts before the rules have changed is a nonsense!

“We simply don’t understand why the rules could not remain unchanged for a finite group of people for a finite and fair period and only for pre-existing family members as we asked.

“But this is also a wider issue about the fairness generally of the minimum income requirement for all those affected and we are very glad that Baroness Hamwee alluded to that too.”

Unlike most new Brexit rules, which come into force at the end of the transition period on January 1st 2020, the new immigration rules for the EU family members of British people living in the EU have a grace period – they will not come into effect until March 2022.

It means that many British people living in the EU, especially those with ageing family members back in the UK, may now need to have serious conversations about where they see their long-term future.

Although the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement gives many guarantees for people to be able to stay in the country they are currently living in, it doesn't cover any onwards moves to another EU country and it in effect 'locks out' many Britons from returning to the UK, unless their EU partners can fit the new immigration criteria.

READ ALSO 'Doors will close for Brits in the EU' – why the UK's immigration proposals sparked alarm

 

 

 

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BREXIT

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.

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