Fate of expatriates: a common cause with different problems

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.”

Pension rights

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.”

Social atmosphere

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.

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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 solution

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.


Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved.

Photo: demonstration in Rome by LucasD (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons.

One thought on “Fate of expatriates: a common cause with different problems

  • 19th February 2017 at 8:38 pm

    The EU Referendum text did not instruct the Government to sign away UK citizens’ current rights to travel, reside, work, study, or retire freely anywhere in the EU, without discrimination. The British Government has a duty to preserve our rights in its Brexit agreement.

    Why are the Brexiteers so willing to sign away the rights of the British people ? Because the Government decided back in October 2016 that pandering to public xenophobia by limiting EU migration to the UK is more important than preserving our economic links with the EU and preserving all existing Rights to Freedom of Movement of UK and continental EU citizens.

    I’m glad to see a lot of political support in UK for the rights of existing EU ex-pats living in UK today, and some very good lobbying on behalf of UK ex-pats living in the EU-27, but there is strangely little talk of the forthcoming loss of all our future rights, and the rights of our children and grandchildren, deriving from being EU citizens. This is the hidden 13th section of the White Paper !

    With the millions of Remain voters, the hundreds of thousands who marched for the EU in July, the many thousands who read The New European and the Guardian, there should be much opposition to this unprecedented assault on our rights. However, it’s not shown on the relevant UK on-line Parliamentary Petitions:

    To our shame, Petition #135700 “Keep the Free Movement of People Between the UK and the EU” closed on 1st Jan. 2017 with only 1471 signatures.

    A new open Petition #168597 “To keep the Four Freedoms as defined by membership of the EEA even after Brexit.” https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/168597 has only gathered 396 signatures.

    And for the FUTURE rights of UK citizens after Brexit, Petition #166833 “Preserve all existing rights of UK citizens to Freedom of Movement in the EU” https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/166833 is open for only 3 weeks more and has less than 300 signatures !

    We’ve just seen how a well-supported on-line Parliamentary Petition (on the Trump visit) can grab the headlines. If publicised urgently (by UK citizens anywhere plus EU-27 citizens resident in the UK) on Twitter and FB, there is still time to drive these petitions up to the tens of thousands and get this issue in the news !

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