Brits’ anxiety, residence permits and ‘Freundship’: Brexit experts talk to The Local

EXCLUSIVE: In part two of our interview, UK Ambassador and the head of the German government's Brexit Task Force talk about the emotional impact on Brits, residence permits and 'Freundship'.

Brits' anxiety, residence permits and 'Freundship': Brexit experts talk to The Local
Union Jack flags at the Broken English British goods store in Berlin. Photo: DPA

As we exclusively revealed on Friday, Germany is planning to extend the transition period for Britons living in Germany in the event of a no-deal from three months to a total of nine months, which will give people more time to prepare. 

But it's not only the practical things, like changing driving licences or applying for citizenship or a residence permit that is troubling UK nationals.

Brits across Germany, like many others in Europe, have been experiencing the emotional impact of Brexit. With no withdrawal agreement in place, unanswered questions and fear over the future, anxiety is rising.

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Sir Sebastian Wood, the UK’s Ambassador to Germany, and Axel Dittmann, head of the German government’s Brexit Task Force, both told The Local they understood why people feel this way, and sought to reassure them that authorities are trying to cushion the effects of Brexit.

“The Brexit vote in 2016 is a decision which we have to respect but that we very much regret – on all levels,” Dittmann told The Local. “And I can imagine that the upcoming exit of the United Kingdom from the EU creates anxieties for British people who have chosen to live here with us in Germany – some of you already for a long time.

SEE ALSO: Brexit: Germany plans to extend transition period for Brits in case of no-deal

“I can only underline once more that we are determined to ensure that all British citizens living in Germany can continue to live, work and study here – you are and will remain an important part of our society.”

Sir Sebastian said the embassy communicates regularly with the UK and nationals, and embassy staff have held events across Germany “to share the most up-to-date information and to answer individual questions”.

Since 2017 the embassy has held 37 information events across Germany.

Photo: DPA

“I understand that uncertainty can be difficult, but we are working closely with our German colleagues and with organizations like British in Germany to protect the interests of UK nationals,” he told The Local.

Some members of campaign groups such as British in Germany (BiG), as well as other Britons, have said they feel let down by the UK government for not taking into account the people who moved to Germany long before a Brexit vote was even announced. Some have even said they feel abandoned by the UK.

When asked about the rights of Britons in Germany who have set up lives here, Sir Sebastian said: “I know from meeting many of you that the UK’s decision to leave the EU has caused considerable uncertainty and worry, and we have been working closely with British in Germany and other groups to understand and address your concerns.

SEE ALSO: OPINION: Why Germany struggles to understand the issues at heart of Brexit

“I can assure you that safeguarding the rights of UK nationals living in the EU, and EU citizens living in the UK, has been a major priority for the negotiations. It was the first topic we discussed, and if it is ratified, the Withdrawal Agreement reached in November will protect the rights of more than three million EU citizens living in the UK and around one million UK nationals living in the EU”

The Ambassador added that a deal would ensure EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU, could “continue contributing to their communities and live their lives broadly as now”.

He added that the UK wanted to protect their rights “whether or not we leave the EU with a deal”. “The UK has already committed to do so, and – as I outlined earlier – we’re asking Germany and other member states to mirror the protections we have offered to EU citizens in the UK.”

Representing rights

Campaign groups like BiG and its parent group British in Europe have been and continue to play an important part in representing citizens’ rights in Germany and Europe.

SEE ALSO: Prepare for Brexit: The ultimate checklist for Brits in Germany

Both Sir Sebastian and Dittmann acknowledged the work they do.

Dittmann said: “I absolutely agree with Jane Golding and Maike Bohn, who represent British in Europe and the3Million in regular meetings here in the Foreign Ministry, that citizen’s rights are of the utmost importance. This topic has been and will remain our top priority.”

Axel Dittmann. Photo courtesy of Axel Dittmann.

Sir Sebastian echoed this sentiment.

“Protecting the rights of citizens remains the UK’s top priority,” he said. “The British Embassy and Consulates have held events throughout Germany to inform British citizens working and living in Germany about their rights as the UK leaves the European Union.”

SEE ALSO: How to swap your UK licence for a German one

Brexit still up in the air

When asked about the UK’s failure so far to put a deal in place, Sir Sebastian emphasized that EU and UK negotiating teams “have worked very hard over the last two years to reach an agreement, and the UK Government remains confident that it can secure a majority in Parliament for a deal”.

The UK diplomat also said that the UK is gearing up “for a range of potential outcomes” just in case.

He said: “As a responsible government, the UK is continuing to prepare – as is the EU – for a range of potential outcomes, including the possibility that we leave the EU without a deal.

“The government has taken a number of steps to ensure that people and businesses are prepared for a no deal scenario, including publishing guidance on processes and procedures at the border and contacting businesses who trade with the EU.

“We have also encouraged businesses and individuals to make their own preparations, suitable for their particular circumstances.”

Lots of Brits in Germany have been making their voice heard by getting in touch with authorities — and even making contact via social media.

“Many British citizens get in contact with the Auswärtiges Amt (Foreign Office), the embassies and consulates or even directly with me via Twitter,” said Dittmann. “I am moved by their stories about how Brexit creates uncertainty and affects family lives and future decisions.”

He said authorities were trying hard to answer all the questions received.

“If the information can’t be found on the websites or isn’t covered by Q&As of the Auswärtiges Amt or the other ministries, citizens can receive direct answers from my colleagues or the colleagues of other ministries,” he added.

Registering for a permit

The German government has already said that all British nationals living in the Bundesrepublik will have to register for a permit after Brexit, regardless of whether there’s a withdrawal agreement in place or not.

Due to Germany being a federal country, power is devolved to individual foreigners authorities so each city carries out the process in a different way. For example, some authorities have asked Britons to register online and attend an interview when contacted. Others have sent letters, while some Brits are expected to look out for information online and get in touch.

SEE ALSO: Brits across Germany urged to apply for residence permit

“The system varies but the requirements are the same,” said Dittmann, regarding registering for a residence permit. “Thus I recommend checking the websites of the local foreigners authorities (Ausländerbehörden) regularly; many have started the registration system online or have informed British nationals about the requirements.”

Photo: Depositphotos/Shebeko

When asked why it is essential to take part in this process, Dittmann said: “The registration is important to be able to prove that you have lived permanently in Germany on Brexit date and that you are eligible for a permanent status. The federal government is currently working with the federal states to coordinate a uniform handling.”

In Berlin, British people have been told they will be invited for an interview after they register for a permit. As The Local has reported, this process could take several months as the foreigners authority have to contact each person. The capital has the highest population of Brits in Germany, with around 18,000.

“To register for a permit, it is indispensable that you hand in your documents personally in order to check your identity,” said Dittmann. “How and when this will happen depends on the respective foreigners authority and its scheduling system.”

There is also concern for Brits who receive unemployment benefits in Germany and how this will change after Brexit in the event of a no-deal.

Dittmann said in the case of a no-deal nothing will change during the transitional period (which Germany intends to extend from three months until the end of 2019 for Britons in Germany).

After that, the government will look at how to deal with this situation, and, if needed, it will create a new process.

Dittmann said: “The federal government intends to grant a residence permit to all British citizens concerned and their family members.

“This can also apply to cases in which the issue of residence permits is not possible under the current legal situation due to the stricter requirements of the national residence law compared to the EU law on the free movement of persons. If necessary, the federal government will examine the creation of necessary legal framework conditions.”

Will the UK’s relationship with Germany suffer?

When it comes to the relationship between the UK and Germany, Dittmann said he believed it wouldn’t suffer.

“Regardless of Brexit, I am absolutely convinced that the British-German ‘Freundship’ will continue to be strong,” said Dittmann, who said he had lived in London as a student as well as later during his career and described it as a “great place”.

Sir Sebastian Wood, British Ambassador to Germany, and the former Social Democrat party chairmen Martin Schulz and Sigmar Gabriel at a political event in Osnabrück, Lower Saxony, in January. Photo: DPA

“The United Kingdom will remain one of our closest partners – economically, strategically but also when it comes to people-to-people contacts,” he added. “So we are really looking forward to working together with our British partners on establishing that future close partnership.”

Sir Sebastian echoed this view, pointing to the history between the two countries. “The UK-German relationship goes back much further and extends far deeper than our membership of the EU,” he said.

“It has also overcome far greater trials than Brexit in its relatively recent history. So I am confident that whatever the future brings, our countries will continue to work together.”

To read all of The Local Germany's Brexit coverage click here

Useful links

You can find more information, and keep up to date with any developments, by subscribing to the Living in Germany Guide on the UK government website.

Visit the German government website for further general information.

For more information about qualification recognition this is a helpful German website.

If you are receiving BAfög, the German student and trainee loan, you find information on this website.

For more information on German citizenship visit this website.

The British embassy recommends reading  UK nationals in the EU: essential information, attending one of the embassy's citizens outreach meeting and following your local British Embassy on Facebook and Twitter.

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‘It’s their loss’: Italian universities left off UK special study visa list

The UK is missing out by barring highly skilled Italian graduates from accessing a new work visa, Italy's universities minister said on Wednesday.

'It's their loss': Italian universities left off UK special study visa list

Universities and Research Minister Cristina Messa said she was disappointed by the UK’s decision not to allow any graduates of Italian universities access to its ‘High Potential Individual’ work permit.

“They’re losing a big slice of good graduates, who would provide as many high skills…it’s their loss,” Messa said in an interview with news agency Ansa, adding that Italy would petition the UK government to alter its list to include Italian institutions.

Ranked: Italy’s best universities and how they compare worldwide

“It’s a system that Britain obviously as a sovereign state can choose to implement, but we as a government can ask (them) to revise the university rankings,” she said.

The High Potential Individual visa, which launches on May 30th, is designed to bring highly skilled workers from the world’s top universities to the UK in order to compensate for its Brexit-induced labour shortage.

Successful applicants do not require a job offer to be allowed into the country but can apply for one after arriving, meaning potential employers won’t have to pay sponsorship fees.

Students sit on the steps of Roma Tre University in Rome.

Students sit on the steps of Roma Tre University in Rome. Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP.

The visa is valid for two years for those with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and three years for PhD holders, with the possibility of moving into “other long-term employment routes” that will allow the individual to remain in the country long-term.

READ ALSO: Eight things you should know if you’re planning to study in Italy

Italy isn’t the only European country to have been snubbed by the list, which features a total of 37 global universities for the 2021 graduation year (the scheme is open to students who have graduated in the past five years, with a different list for each graduation year since 2016).

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, EPFL Switzerland, Paris Sciences et Lettres, the University of Munich, and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute are the sole European inclusions in the document, which mainly privileges US universities.

Produced by the UK’s Education Ministry, the list is reportedly based on three global rankings: Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings, and The Academic Ranking of World Universities.

Messa said she will request that the UK consider using ‘more up-to-date indicators’, without specifying which alternative system she had in mind.