Britons in EU member states have been rushing to apply for citizenship to overcome the uncertainty created by the Brexit referendum, a new study has shown.
The trend is particularly pronounced in Germany, where the number of British residents applying for citizenship has increased by a staggering 2,300% between 2015 and 2019. 622 Brits were granted German citizenship in 2015, while the number reached 14,600 in 2019, according to data by German statistical office Destatis cited in the report.
Daniel Tetlow, one of the authors of the study, estimates that another 10,000 to 20,000 will be added to that figure in 2020.
The “huge increase” in citizenship applications in Germany is likely linked to the deadline for acquiring dual citizenship, Tetlow told Europe Street.
Dual nationality is permitted in Germany only for citizens from other EU countries. People have otherwise to choose and relinquish the nationality of birth. However, following the referendum on the UK withdrawal from the EU, the German parliament passed a law to allow Brits and Germans to retain both passports, if they applied for naturalisation during the Brexit transition period.
As the transition period comes to an end on December 31st 2020, the number of applications is expected to further spike.
The research was carried out by the University of Oxford in Berlin and research institute WZB. As part of the study, a group of Brits in Germany were interviewed about their motivations in moving to Germany or applying for German citizenship.
The interviews reveal that for a remarkable 90%, Brexit was the dominant reason for their citizenship application and 74% said they would, or would consider, giving up their British citizenship if they had to.
“Until my German citizenship came through there was a huge amount of uncertainty and I felt a lot of angst and worry especially when my job was threatened,” said one of the respondents.
The research also found a 520% increase of citizenship applications by Britons in other EU member states.
Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Finland have seen a significant rise, according to the report, while applications in Spain have remained relatively flat given that dual citizenship with the UK is not permitted.
Brexit impacts on migration from the UK
Paradoxically, the study shows that since the referendum the number of British citizens moving from the UK to a country of the EU has soared too.
Based on official statistics, the authors estimate that migration from the UK to the EU has increased by 17,000 persons per year since 2016, 30% more than pre-Brexit numbers.
In fact, the UK and EU migration patterns have been diverging since 2015, when the Brexit referendum entered the public debate, researchers say.
A response to uncertainty
Uncertainty was widely cited as the driving force for British citizens’ migration decisions post-2016, while personal motivations were the deciding factor prior to the referendum, according to the interviews carried out for the report.
Researches note that with the Brexit vote, for the first time a country decided to separate from a free movement area that continued to exist (unlike, for example, the disintegration of the Soviet Union). The referendum has also caused a legal limbo for UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, while the economic impact of Brexit is yet to be determined.
The interviews also indicated that decisions were more impulsive, with people more willing to take high risks than in the past. Half of the interviewees that migrated post-referendum, for instance, said they made the decision and acted on it within 12 weeks, while the majority of those who migrated before the referendum pondered the move for more than 12 months.
“We took big risks turning our lives around in 8 weeks with 5 children to get to Germany. If we did it again, I wouldn’t do it so quickly,” said one of the respondents.
Over a third of participants in the research that arrived in Germany post-referendum also reported that if the vote had not taken place, they would have stayed in the UK.
Altering countries’ immigrant composition
Another paradoxical trend emerged from the study is the “transformation in attitudes” of Britons in Germany. Three quarters of the respondents said they are now keen to invest more in social integration, starting from learning the language. Two thirds also reported a stronger sense of European and British identity.
Researchers also say that the significant rise in arrivals of British citizens is in some cases altering the countries’ immigrant composition, “especially with regard to linguistics background and education levels.”
In Germany, for instance, the number of Brits obtaining a German passport is now second only to Turkish citizens, and comes before Poles.
“We conclude that collective uncertainty – in this case triggered by a major national policy change – is powerful enough to alter migratory behaviour at scales comparable to early changes in migration patterns from Eastern Europe to the UK after the enlargement of the European Union in 2004,” the authors of the study say.
Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved.
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