Residence, social security, citizenship: how EU countries prepare for Brexit – part 1

EU governments are introducing residence and social security measures to safeguard the status of British residents and protect their citizens in the UK.

As the UK leaves the European Union, EU leaders agreed a separation deal that secures many of the rights currently enjoyed by people who moved across the Channel. The British parliament, however, voted down the agreement, so EU states are stepping up preparations for the possibility of a no deal Brexit. If the UK crashes out of the EU on 29 March 2019, British citizens will be subject to EU rules on “third country nationals”. Beyond these, it will be up to each country to decide how to safeguard affected people.

EU governments are now making plans in three areas: the procedure to ensure British citizens remain legally resident, the adjustment of social security rules to safeguard rights accrued across borders, the exceptions to citizenship rules in some countries that do not allow dual nationality.

The European Commission encouraged EU governments to “take a generous approach to the rights of UK citizens”. This is a summary of the measures that are being taken across the EU.


The government is considering options regarding residency rights of British nationals in the event of no deal Brexit, a spokesman of the Ministry of the Interior recently told Austrian media. The government will propose solutions on a reciprocal basis, depending on how the UK treats EU nationals, he said. “Whatever the [Brexit] outcome may be, British citizens in Austria can rest assured that they will still be welcome and their rights will be protected. You are a valuable addition to our country and we want you to stay!”, tweeted Minister of Foreign Affairs Karin Kneissl.

For the time being, the Federal government has set up a web page, a hotline and an email address for information about Brexit.

Austria is one of the countries that allow dual nationality only in special circumstances. The Austrian government is considering an exception to the rule for Austrians living in the UK in the event of no deal Brexit.


The Belgian government approved on January 18 a draft law that will reach parliament after receiving the green lights from the Council of State. According to media reports, the proposal covers residency, social and family rights on a reciprocal basis.

Social Affairs Minister Maggie De Block wrote on her blog: “The UK withdrawal from the European Union will have important consequences in terms of social security, residence and healthcare. We will safeguard these rights in Belgium.” She added that rights accrued before Brexit will be taken into account in a no deal scenario.


The Migration Department has published guidance for the registration of UK nationals. If there is a Brexit deal, holders of residence documents, including those issued during the Brexit transition period (up to 31 December 2020), can continue using them as proof of their rights. After the transition period, they can request a new document stating that it is issued in accordance with the withdrawal agreement. Plans for a no deal scenario have not been published yet.

Czech Republic

In August 2018 the Czech Ministry of the Interior urged British nationals to apply for a certificate of temporary residence or for a permanent residence permit “for reasons of legal certainty and to save time and avoid possible more complicated administrative procedures in the future”.

The Czech Cabinet approved on January 7 a draft bill to safeguard the status of British residents in the event of no deal Brexit. The planned law establishes a transition period from 30 March 2019 to 31 December 2020, during which British nationals will continue to be treated as EU citizens when it comes to employment, healthcare, education, social security, professional qualifications, taxation and citizenship. After 31 December 2020, British nationals will become third country nationals. Proposed measures are on condition of reciprocity from the UK. A ministerial press statement says that the bill also aims to guarantee the position of Czechs in Britian. The bill will be fast-tracked in parliament.


In his speech delivered in October, Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen promised to “look after” Britons living in Denmark. Responding to a recent question on Twitter, Rasmussen confirmed that legislation will be put in place to protect their status.


The Estonian government passed an act to ensure that British residents and their family members can continue living in the country “in accordance with the EU withdrawal agreement”. ID cards will remain valid until their expiry and new residence documents will be issued from 2021. According to the withdrawal agreement, there will be a transition period from 30 March 2019 until 31 December 2020, during which EU law continues to apply.

In the event of no deal, Estonia’s intention is that Britons can “continue their everyday life without any notable additional bureaucracy,” says a statement.

Estonian broadcaster ERR cites a representative of the Ministry of the Interior saying that in a no-deal scenario, the government will not limit the residence rights of UK nationals and their families. “We will inform UK citizens directly in case additional action is needed,” he added.


The Ministry of the Interior will publish plans in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Juha Sipilä has called on British citizens to register with the Finnish Immigration Service, if they have not already done so. The registration will help expedite the processing of future residence permits.


The French parliament passed a bill that gives government the mandate to make fast executive decisions in a number of areas in the event of no deal Brexit. One of these areas is the status of British residents in France and French citizens in the UK.

Measures will cover the right of entry and residence, as well as the protection of public servants and trainees of British nationality working in the French administration. The decree will have to take into consideration social security rights and professional trainining acquired before Brexit and six months after the Brexit date for people who decide to relocate from the UK to France. Professional qualifications should be recognised up to 5 years after Brexit.

The parliament agreed to ensure a “favourable treatment” for Britons living in France compared to third country nationals, if the UK reciprocates. Also possible, the negotiation of a bilateral agreement between the UK and France.

French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced the publication on January 23 of a decree covering these issues. This will set a period of 12 months during which British nationals can continue living in France without a residence permit. During this period, however, they will have to apply for a residence document. These arrangements will be on condition of reciprocity from the UK.


Assuming there will be a Brexit deal, British citizens have until 31 December 2020 to register and provide proof of residence to the Foreigners Registration Office in the area where they live.

In the event of no deal, British citizens will become “third country nationals”, said the Minister of Interior. The Federal government plans an initial transition period of three months that could be extended. During this time, British residents and their family members will be able to continue living and working in Germany as before, but will have to apply for a new residence permit with the local foreigners authority.

Berlin’s Foreigners Registration Office has been the first to open the online applications.

The German Federal government also prepared a draft bill to guarantee social security and education rights of people impacted by Brexit in the event of no deal. Anyone who has accrued rights in the UK and Germany at some point before Brexit should be able to maintain them, either through a bilateral agreement that has been in place since 1960, or through a new bilateral agreement. In the meantime, social security contributions paid up to five years after Brexit should be taken into account, as if the UK were still a member of the EU.

With regard to education, German trainees and students who have enrolled in UK programmes, or vice versa, will be able to complete their studies without losing agreed loans and subventions. Nothing should change for people in the UK who receive a pension from Germany, based on the proposals.

Separately, the German parliament (Bundestag) approved a law that allows British and German nationals to have dual citizenship if the naturalisation application is made during the Brexit transition period (until 31 December 2020). The transition, however, will only be activated by the ratification of the withdrawal agreement. In the event of no deal, only applications made before 30 March 2019 will maintain this benefit. Germany permits dual nationality only to citizens from other EU countries.


Ireland and the UK will maintain the Common Travel Area (CTA) that existed before the two countries joined the European Union. On this basis, Irish and British citizens can move freely and reside in either country enjoying reciprocal rights on employment, healthcare, education, social benefits and certain elections.

The Irish government is also preparing emergency measures with a Brexit omnibus bill that would make specific arrangements for healthcare, employment, student support and social welfare (e.g. Irish pensions paid in the UK or vice versa).


The Italian government promised a simple declaration system for British residents and urged them to register in their towns if they haven’t done so yet. “There is a shared commitment to offer the maximum possible protection even in the case of withdrawal without agreement,” says an official statement.

Italy recently changed citizenship rules. British nationals now face longer waiting times to obtain an Italian passport.


Latvia is preparing a document on the rights of British residents and Latvian citizens in the UK, said the Minister of Foreign Affairs. But the timeline has not been specified, reports the Baltic News Network.


If there is a Brexit deal, British living in Luxembourg and their family members will be given a special residence permit stating that they are protected under the withdrawal agreement. This document will be issued during the Brexit transition period (from 29 March 2019 to 31 December 2020). In the meantime, current documents will remain valid. “People affected do not need to take any specific step for the replacement of their residence permits,” says a government statement. The details on the future procedure will be published on the website

In case of no-deal Brexit, Luxembourg will consider British nationals as EU citizens until 29 March 2020. During this time, they can apply for EU permanent residence. Passed the deadline, they will be considered “third country nationals” and will need a different residence document. The government aims to ease the procedure and expects the UK to reciprocate.


The Immigration and Naturalisation Department (IND) has written to British residents about their post-Brexit rights. If the deal is approved, UK nationals will be invited to apply for their new residence status between 29 March 2019 and 31 December 2020. The cost of the new residence card will be equal to that of an EU document (57 euros for adults and 30 euros for persons under 18 years old). Those who already have a permanent residence card will not need to pay. 

In case of no deal, there will be a transition period of 15 months, from 29 March 2019 to 1 July 2020. Before 29 March 2019 the IND will send British residents a letter that will work as a temporary residence document. British nationals and their family members will retain their rights during the transition, but will have to apply for a new residence permit. The IND will send a letter inviting them to apply for this permit and applications will be based on the same conditions applicable to EU citizens.

The Netherlands, which allows dual nationality only in certain cases, may ease citizenship rules in the future but not in time for Brexit.


The Polish government submitted to a 10-day consultation a draft law on the residence status of UK nationals and their family members in the event of no deal Brexit. The draft introduces a transition period of a year, during which UK nationals will be considered legally resident but will have to apply for a new document. They will receive a permanent or temporary (3 years) residence permit, depending on whether they have lived in the country for more or less than 5 years. Fingerprints will be taken. Successful applicants will receive a residence card with the word “Brexit” that will confirm their rights in Poland.

The UK Embassy in Warsaw has translated the draft law in English.


The Minister of the Interior urged British residents who have not registered in the country yet to do so by March 29. “We want them to continue living in Portugal and we welcome their presence in Portuguese society,” he said.

The government published a contingency plan with a list of measures that will be taken for British citizens in Portugal and Portuguese in the UK in the event of no deal Brexit. Legislative changes will be made so that British nationals and their family members can apply for a new residence document by 31 December 2020. The government also plans to increase the capacity of its consular services in the UK and open a hotline to provide information.

A 1978 bilateral agreement is expected to cover rights to healthcare in the two countries and Portugal plans to re-negotiate and expand it. New measures will also address the recognition of professional qualification.


The Spanish government will adopt in February a decree to cover citizens’ rights in the event of no deal Brexit. The intention is to “globally” preserve the rights of British citizens in Spain, “considering that they have made vital decisions believing in the European project,” says a statement. The government will establish a system allowing them to transition from the current status to third country nationals. In the meantime, it urges British residents to register at the Central Registry of Foreigners and get a residence certification.

There will be measures to guarantee social security rights, healthcare and the recognition of professional qualifications for both Britons in Spain and Spaniards in the UK. Contingency measures will also concern the rights of people working across the border in Gibraltar.

A web page has been launched to inform individuals and companies on how to prepare for the different Brexit scenarios.

Spain have also signed a bilateral agreement with the UK allowing Britons who have lived in the country for at least three years and Spaniards in the UK to continue voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections.


In the event of no deal Brexit, the government will allow British residents to stay in the country on similar terms they enjoy now. The government has published a “memorandum” specifying that UK nationals and their family members will be exempted from the requirements of residence and work permits for one year. Their rights will remain unchanged during this period.

Legislative adjustments will be proposed to transition from the current status to long term residence under EU rules on third country nationals. The period of residence in Sweden before Brexit will be considered for this purpose and easier procedures will be introduced (e.g. accepting applications from people who are already in Sweden). The time-limited “ordinance” should enter into force on 30 March 2019 and the legislative changes on 1 July 2019.

The information here is valid at the time of publication, on January 21. The story is in development. We’ll keep adding information as details come in. If you are aware of new official measures not mentioned here please get in touch: hello[at]

Text and photo: Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved

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