Musical Chairs for UK-EU Expats – Grab a Seat Before the Music Stops

As the Brexit negotiations drag on, there is still no final clarity on the future of British citizens living in Europe. It is likely to be reciprocal – whatever that means. With Boris, who knows?

Britons still living in one of the 27 EU countries (and hoping to remain) could be forgiven a sense of unease as they skim the media. The two sides are “still far away from agreement” reported The Guardian recently. “Brexit deal unlikely by the end of the year,” is one of many terse statements from EU lead negotiator Michel Barnier. The UK’s David Frost is not to be outdone: “Prospect of no deal … but agreement can still be reached,” he commented. Work that one out. 

Fishy Business

There is a considerable disconnect between ex-pats residential concerns and the ongoing spat between Brussels and London. The bad news is that two issues at present seem intractable:  Fishing rights and coordination of trade regulations. The EU wants to maintain access for European fishing fleets to British waters, an existential issue for British fishermen and an emotive one for nationalistic Brexiteers itching to regain “sovereignty.” But Brussels has been unnerved by Boris Johnson’s vague fantasizing on future opportunities for his “global Britain.” It seems he envisages slashing business taxes and duties, anything to undercut the cost of doing business on the Continent. Re-make Britain as Singapore with fog. 

Reciprocity Rules, OK

The good news for ex-pats is that there does seem to be substantial agreement on the rights of Europeans and Britons to live and work as if the UK were still a member of the EU. The original Brexiteer mantra of “foreigners out” has been quietly canned by the Johnson administration. A statement from the British Foreign Office pleaded: “We continue to call on the EU and member states to protect the rights of UK nationals with faster implementation, longer application windows and clear communications, as the UK has done for EU citizens in the UK.” Sounds like pretty please.

On a formal level Johnson’s Minister responsible, Michael Gove, wrote to his colleague Maroš Šefčovič, Vice President of the European Commission, in May this year. The letter, Citizens’ Rights in the Withdrawal Agreement, is touchingly personal: “Dear Maroš,” writes Gove and signs off “Yours, Michael.”  The tone is friendly, conciliatory, almost apologetic – in stark contrast to the arrogance coming out of No.10 Downing Street. The gist is that the UK is doing all it can to honor EU citizens’ rights in the UK, but is disappointed that some (unnamed) countries are not doing their bit. Gove mentions complex paper-based application procedures, face-to-face interviews and month long processing times. 

Un-Unified Union

Unsurprisingly the 27 EU countries do not (yet) have a common policy. Existing residency conditions for UK citizens are binding for all 27 EU members until the end of the transition period, December 31, 2020. But after that, it is each land for itself.  

There seem to be two broad possibilities, “constitutive” and “declaratory.” The London based Guardian explained: Constitutive is the stricter route, requiring an application for settled status. This is essentially what the UK will demand of EU citizens and 13 EU nations, including France, will probably go this way. The other 14 have chosen the simpler declarative system. This requires British nationals to register their residency in order to continue to live, work or study in their chosen country. Spain, (where around 300,000 Britons live), is going this route and has even launched an emotive ad campaign to reassure Anglos who have established their new lives in Europe’s sunbelt. 

“Many of you have built your homes here and we want you to stay … You are part of the Spanish family. You are part of us,” declared the appropriately named Ministry of Inclusion and Social Security. British pension remittances make a significant contribution to the national economy, roughly proportional to their 0.6% of the population.

The current Institute for Government (IfG) information site is more encouraging, but stresses the important deadlines. You will need to apply for residence status in the country you are residing in. So anyone concerned should mark the calendar: “They will have until at least 30 June, 2021 to apply.” That’s the status now, but it may vary. You have been warned.

Professionals to the Front

Austria seems to be going the stricter, “constitutive” route, but not unreasonably so. Skimming the current government website shows a choice of approaches for UK citizens who wish to remain. In normal people-speak the options are: short term residency without intention to settle, nine special employment, research or study categories, special allowance for family members – and long term residency (effectively close to EU citizen rights). 

The site also adds – reassuringly – that the British Embassy in Vienna is in close contact with the Austrian Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs and is happy to help on residency permit issues. With a little bit of luck the pragmatic common sense of professional public servants will win out over the serpentine course of Boris Johnson’s populist rhetoric.

PS: Personal tip

The writer is currently jumping through the hoops for his own long term Austrian residency. At first glance, everything is well organized and simple. Caveat: Assembling the required documentation is fiddly work, may require digging out stuff you never expected to need again. Allow plenty of time before your appointment

Must do’s:

  • Register your current status under existing rules before end of Transition Period – 31.12.2020
  • Apply for new status under post Brexit local rules by 30.06.2021

Key contacts:

Austrian government info sites

General overview: 

Simon Ballam
English, studied in NY and worked in London, Düsseldorf, NY, Fankfurt, Prague and Vienna. This covered stints in market research and the film industry, international advertising coordination and strategic planning. Currently business school lecturer and journalist.

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