Brexit: Brits in Europe left in limbo as EU states scratch their heads

Britain will leave the EU in just nine months, yet Brits living in the EU still don't know what the future holds for them – and EU governments don't have a plan, an expert tells The Local.

Brexit: Brits in Europe left in limbo as EU states scratch their heads
Dr Michaela Benson
Questions like what documents will be needed, what the procedure will be, how much it will cost and how long it will take are causing headaches for British citizens from Porto to Plovdiv. A recent report titled Next Steps: How to get a good Brexit deal for British citizens living in the EU-27 suggests the EU hasn’t even agreed who should be in charge of the process, let alone how it should be done.
“What people want to know is what to do,” Dr. Michaela Benson, a sociologist at London’s Goldsmiths University and the report’s author, told The Local, summing up the frustrations of EU citizens in the UK and Brits in Europe.
The 35-page analysis, which features interviews with stakeholder EU officials and was co-authored by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), looks at how prepared Member States are to role out a smooth process for British nationals to get residency in their host country after Brexit.
“The confusion stems from the fact that it is not clear whether EU citizens living in the EU27 will be treated as third country nationals or not,” Dr Benson told The Local. In other words, whose remit will British citizens in Europe fall under?
The issue relates to who should be in charge of the logistical procedure of how British citizens in the EU will demonstrate their right to residency. Will it be national agencies or an EU-wide standardised effort run from Brussels? Where does the competence lie, even at a national level?
Given there is no precedent, EU governments have been left scratching their heads as what to do. “Until it’s happened and certain they don’t want to deal with it,” adds Dr. Benson. The Goldsmiths sociologist says that British citizens are not considered a “political issue within the EU politics of migration” and that many EU nations are simply taking a wait-and-see attitude.
As one officials states in the report: “We still do not know what the rules will be in the end, so we cannot answer the questions very concretely.”
The delays continue to anger citizens’ rights groups. “To date we have seen more energy spent on discussing the post-Brexit movement rights of jam than we have of people. This needs to change,” Jane Golding, chair of British in Europe – the grassroots movement for the rights of British citizens in Europe – said last week.
A pan-European procedure for Brits in Europe to get residency will be complicated. In countries like Germany and Austria, where registration is mandatory for foreign EU nationals, British citizens are more likely to be integrated into the system and struggle less to demonstrate a history of residency.
But in countries like France, where registration is not mandatory, many British citizens may struggle to prove their past residency status and fulfil the criteria for a Brexit residency card. In France, for example, Dr. Benson points out that in 2004 the need for British (EU) residents to get a carte de séjour (a residency card) was removed. This means that many British citizens may not yet have applied for one.
Dr. Benson warns that any post-Brexit residency procedures based on registration alone will punish the most precarious in Britain’s EU community, such as young itinerant workers or seasonal staff.
“Young people are moving regularly across nation states in search of temporary work in the contemporary globalised market,” Dr Benson told The Local. The loss of onward movement for British citizens, who may only retain their EU rights in one host country after Brexit, will mean “seasonal workers will be hit hard,” adds Benson. “Younger, itinerant people will find themselves not covered.”
Besides the impact that the post-Brexit regulations will have on those on short term contracts, Benson notes that workers in markets that are highly reliant on European integration would most likely be more affected. This includes academics, researchers, scientists, IT workers – or any company with a large British workforce in the EU.
This is the main question on which citizens rights groups are calling for clarity. Brits in Europe want to know how they will be entitled to travel and work across EU borders after Brexit. “Clarifying onward-movement rights will be one of the biggest remaining challenges regarding citizens rights,” states the report.
UK-headquartered multinationals employ nearly 200,000 people in France, states a report in French daily La Tribune. Thousands of Brits work in France too: nearly 11,000 alone in the region of Nouvelle Aquitaine, according to data from the French national statistics office INSEE. The rights of this workforce post-Brexit remain unclear.
Campaigners have expressed fears that governments are failing to roll out new procedures for registration and residency fast enough for the millions who stand to be affected. “This scheme is supposed to be set up and running by the autumn. There is not a chance that is going to happen,”Anne Laure Donskoy, co-chair of The3Million, told The Exiting the European Union Committee at a British parliamentary hearing on citizens rights last week.
Third country working rights were not covered in the February draft agreement between the UK and the EU. That clause was withdrawn in the March agreement, leaving the issue unresolved. At the time, British in Europe’s chair Jane Golding said Cheddar cheese could end up having more freedom of movement rights than British citizens in the EU.
The report by Goldsmiths University and the MPI stresses that EU states need to cut a balance between creating a “user-friendly,” welcoming and inclusive system for obtaining residency, but at the same time prevent fraud.
Goldsmith’s Dr. Benson suggests governments should ask for “prospective rather than retrospective requirements” – which if accepted, would save Brits digging up, or even sourcing afresh, years of past paperwork.
Barriers to proving legal residence should be low and there should be a flexible approach taken to the kind of documentation provided, recommends the report. Family applications should be considered simultaneously and applications should be able to be filed online and in English.
Another issue in the Brexit quagmire that could affect Brits as much as Europeans is the mutual recognition of qualifications. If there isn’t a broad recognition of British qualifications in the EU, EU graduates could find the door to their home labour market shut in their face.
“Cyprus is worried they will have a workforce that will lose their qualifications overnight,” Benson told The Local. Thousands of Cypriot students study in the UK each year. The UK is also the number one destination abroad for Bulgarian students. In 2017, 138,000 non-UK EU students were enrolled in higher education in Britain.
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