From the recognition of pension contributions to the ability of running businesses across countries once the UK leaves the EU. Concerns of expatriates were discussed on January 18 at the House of Commons Brexit committee. Groups representing EU nationals living in the UK and British citizens in other EU states presented their case to MPs. Their position is similar in many ways, but differs in many others.
Permanent residence and citizenship
In the current climate of uncertainty, most expatriates see the acquisition of permanent residence and citizenship in the country where they live as the only way to secure their future.
In the UK, EU nationals face a particularly burdensome procedure, with a long form to fill in and a passport checking service that is not working smoothly. Anne-Laure Donskoy, co-chair of the3million, an advocacy group defending the rights of EU citizens in Britain, showed the panel the hundreds of pages she had to supply for her application. “There is a passport checking service councils should offer, but many councils are not aware of it and some are being difficult,” she explained.
A major headache is the requirement of ‘comprehensive sickness insurance’ for people who are not employed or self-employed. Many were not aware of it and as a result, applications have been rejected. “The process is there to put people off,” concluded Donskoy. In other EU countries, the procedure to get permanent residence certification was said to be simpler.
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While many people are pursuing naturalisation, some are reluctant to make this move, especially as some EU states do not allow dual nationality. Spain is one of them. “We are petitioning the Spanish government about this,” said Sue Wilson, a British resident in Spain. “We do not know whether we can keep the right to the British pension if we change nationality and some may want to return to Britain in the future, but as Spanish citizens they will have to go through the permanent residence procedure.”
Another question is about the future recognition of pension contributions. “Contributions accrued through different EU countries are now taken into account towards my pension entitlement. As a non-EU member I would have to contribute at least 10 years to the Italian system [before being able to benefit from it],” explained Gareth Horsfall, a British resident in Italy who previously lived in other EU countries.
For British pensioners abroad there is also the problem of the annual increases. The UK pays the state pension worldwide, but adjusts it to the cost of living only in the European Economic Area (EEA), Gibraltar or Switzerland or in a country with which there is a social security agreement. “If we were to lose that increase, there will be significant effects,” added Wilson. She said that many retirees might have to return to Britain. “It is not that people are in Spain on holidays. Many moved there because it was cheaper to live there. And anyone earning their living in sterling is already suffering [from its loss of value].”
Setting up business
Besides social protection, the EU citizenship includes the right to establish business and have professional qualifications recognised in other member states. Horsfall said that keeping these rights will be paramount for his business in Italy. “Without that, I might have to sit an examination in Italian at a very advanced level,” he declared.
Similar concerns were raised by EU nationals in the UK. “People come here because the British system allows to develop businesses. It is easier than in other countries. For many this is an opportunity to spread their entrepreneurial wings,” said Barbara Drozdowicz, Chief Executive Officer of the East European Resource Centre. “People now wonder what will happen with their business, especially if they operate throughout the EU.”
A specific concern of EU nationals in the UK is the overall atmosphere of the country, which has deteriorated since the EU referendum. “The uncertainty, the conflicting messages coming from Westminster and sometimes the barely veiled threat of deportation coming from the Home Office have not helped,” said Donskoy.
— Rebecca Taylor (@RTaylor_LibDem) January 20, 2017
She added that the media played a big part and the result of the referendum “has given white card to certain individuals to openly show their racism.”
British nationals living in other EU countries did not report of abuses or threats.
The British government has said that the UK intends to protect the rights of EU nationals living in Britain after Brexit, as long as European countries will do the same with Britons on their territory. But this approach creates controversy. “We reject the reciprocity agreement. We face different problems,” said at the hearing Nicolas Hatton, co-chair of the3million group. “British nationals in the EU will still be living under EU laws in the future, including those on human rights. We won’t,” he added.
EU countries refuse to negotiate on any topic until the UK triggers Article 50 of the Treaty, which formally starts the procedure to leave the Union. Meanwhile, all groups of expatriates agree that the solution for them should come with a unilateral commitment from the UK. They say that the British government should make the first move because it is the UK that has decided to leave the EU, not the other way around.
A gesture from the UK “would be magnanimous and a good way to start the negotiations,” said Christopher Chantrey, a Briton living in France.
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