Proposals for residence permits for Brits following a no-deal Brexit were announced last week, despite previous statements from Swedish ministers which suggested there would be no further measures. In August, Sweden's EU Minister told The Local “we have done what we need to do for those who are in Sweden now”, and referred to the one-year grace period offered by the Swedish government.
Over 2,000 tuned in to/attended last night’s meeting for British nationals in Sweden, held with the Swedish Government. Available to view on Facebook. For more info, follow our Facebook page or https://t.co/gw2nBGXcLm…. #Brexit https://t.co/Y9BnDYofnA
— Judith Gough (@JudithGoughFCO) October 8, 2019
Asked if any of the questions raised in the townhall event came as a surprise, she noted “my job is never to be surprised”.
Sanders' main concerns related to whether her Swedish-British family would be able to return to the UK in the future if necessary, and what would happen to her British pension.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions, still, around what this means for individuals long-term,” she explained. “I asked a question about pensions, and my worries are: Will it be uprated? Will it be the pension as I've earned it? Should I still be paying into my British pension scheme as well?”
“Concrete answers are somewhat lacking. You need to plan for your future. I'm an only child and both my parents are remarried. If I ever needed to go back to the UK to take care of them, my [Swedish] husband would be classed as a third-country national [from the end of March 2022] and it could take a couple of years to get back into the country. I might not have that time, so do I split my family for a few years? Will there be extra requirements?” she wondered.
Graeme Fletcher (left) and Steven Groves. Photo: Catherine Edwards
Friends Steven Groves and Graeme Fletcher, like Sanders, have lived in Sweden long-term and built lives and families here, but they also had concerns.
Fletcher said he felt the meeting was well-organized, saying: “Last time there were a lot more feelings involved, this time there were a lot of facts. The Swedish authorities seem to have a plan, even if they can't say straight away what will happen, and they seem to have made it as easy as possible for everybody.”
But Groves noted: “At the end of the day we don't know what's going to happen until we get a hard Brexit or an easy Brexit. One of the things I noticed today was that they couldn't answer all the questions fully, talking about driving licences and things like that – that's normal stuff. I've been here 30 years, I'm married, and have permanent residency, so my question is what happens then, when your foundations are in Sweden.”
The pair agreed that after decades in Sweden, returning to the UK was out of the question. Both had decided to apply for Swedish citizenship after the Brexit referendum, never having considered taking the step previously.
I’m at the British Embassy’s townhall event in Stockholm to find out about the permits being prepared for Brits in case of no-deal. It is a *long* time since I’ve heard so many regional British accents! pic.twitter.com/X6KOEPe7xy
— Catherine Edwards (@CatJREdwards) October 7, 2019
“I've been here 24 years now, and I'm not married so that was a major concern – what happens in the future if you lose your job for example,” explained Groves.
“Now I've applied for citizenship which I think is really important. It never really crosses your mind beforehand. But when they had the Brexit vote in England, we weren't allowed to vote because we'd lived abroad for more than eight years. At the same time there were the general elections in Sweden, which we weren't allowed to vote in because we're not Swedish citizens. That's when I realized, I can't decide the future of my children. You really do feel like you're in no man's land.”
For those who have lived in Sweden long enough to be eligible for citizenship, the key questions around Brexit include the impact on cross-cultural families and pensions. But those without citizenship will need to apply for residence permits, meaning further questions not only about the eligibility criteria for those permits and how to prove these are fulfilled, but also about the impact of Brexit on job-hunting, travel, third-country partners, and more.
Molly and Erin, both originally from London and resident in Sweden for under five years, said they were still confused about how the residency period would be calculated.
“It still feels very confusing. Our main question is, what does 'residency' actually mean?” Molly said after the event. “Is it the date you arrive or the date you get a personnummer?”
Erin agreed, adding: “It's becoming real for us now, we've been living in hope for so long that [a no-deal Brexit] might not even happen.”