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RESIDENCY PERMITS

Brexit: Five key things to know about applying for residency in the EU

As tens of thousands of Brits across Europe prepare to begin the process of applying for residency rights to ensure their right to remain after Brexit, here are five key points you should know, thanks to British in Europe.

Brexit: Five key things to know about applying for residency in the EU
Photo by Markus Spiske

British nationals across Europe are facing a crucial time over the coming weeks and months as most face the prospect of having to apply for residency or at least register with authorities as a way of ensuring their future in the EU.

While the Withdrawal Agreement was ratified in January this year EU countries have the task of implementing the rights it guarantees British Citizens in the EU.

And things are moving slowly, with the UK having made more progress in registering EU citizens.

“Across the EU things are very much further behind than in the UK,” Kalba Meadows from British in Europe told a parliamentary committee this week.

“In fact there are only three EU countries where implementation (of the Withdrawal agreement) has begun: Italy, Netherlands and Malta,” she said

Other countries are at different stages with some having legislation in place to ensure the rights of Brits are guaranteed whilst others do not, she explained.

British in Europe have helped spell out some important points on the issue of residency rights and the procedures that British readers should be aware of. The points below are taken from British in Europe's Guidance note.

1. There's no minimum duration for living in a country before December 31st 2020

You will be covered by the WA for residence if you (a) lived legally (see above) in your host country before the end of the transition period and (b) you continue to do so afterwards. All possible situations where the right of residence stems from free movement rules are included.

This includes ordinary residence, whether you’re employed, self-employed, self-sufficient or a student; permanent residence; residence as a family member; and residence under the special rules for jobseekers.

There is no minimum duration for having lived legally before the end of the transition period. Example: you move to Finland to take up employment on December 1st 2020 and remain there after December 31st 2020. You are covered by the WA.

2. You don't actually need to be physically in the EU on December 31st

You don’t need to be physically present in your host country at the end of the transition period to be covered by the WA, as long as you remain legally resident on that day.

This is because as a legal resident you are allowed to be absent from your host country for certain periods without losing your residence rights: As an ordinary resident, you can be away from your host country for no more than 6 months every year without losing your resident status.

You’re allowed one longer absence of up to 12 months in the 5 year period for ‘important reasons’: eg childbirth, serious illness, study, vocational training or posting elsewhere (this is not an exhaustive list).

Once you have acquired permanent residence under the Withdrawal Agreement, you can be away from your host country for 5 years – an increase on the 2 years permitted for EU citizens – and still retain the right to return and keep your rights of permanent residence.

3. Rights don't change if you lose or change your job

Your right of residence under the WA in your host country is not affected if you change your status. Your ‘status’ for this purpose represents the category under which you are exercising your free movement rights: employed, self-employed, non economically active and self-sufficient or student.

So your rights are not affected if, for example if you stop being a student and start work, if you stop working and become non-economically active and self-sufficient, or if you move between the categories in any other way.

You can also hold more than one status at one time – for example you can be a student who is simultaneously self-employed. There are no procedural consequences attached to a change of status – you don’t have to report it to your registration authority or apply for or request a new residence document.

4. The qualifying period for permanent residency doesn't have to be the last 5 years

If you already hold permanent residence status under current free movement rules at the end of the transition period, you will be eligible for permanent residence status under the WA.

If you have not been resident long enough to acquire permanent residence status under the WA at the end of the transition period, you can continue to build up your years until you reach 5 years, when you will be eligible for permanent residence under the WA.

Periods both before and after the end of transition will be taken into account. One very important precision is that the qualifying period of residence does not have to be immediately before the moment when the right of permanent residence is claimed.

This means, for example, that if you have been resident in your host country for over 5 years but your circumstances changed recently, leaving you struggling to meet the conditions, you can call upon an earlier period of residence during which you did meet the conditions to use as your qualifying period.

5. Deadlines could be crucial depending on the country you are in

13 countries are adopting a constitutive system.

We still await the published list, although most countries now have stated which they will adopt. In a constitutive scheme you acquire residence status only if (a) you make an application for it and (b) that application is granted. In other words, the ‘source’ of your residence status and the rights that stem from it is the decision on your application made by the registration authority in your host country. It’s that decision, and the residence document that is issued as a result, which confers your residence status.

This is how ‘settled status’ works in the UK, and it also corresponds to the type of system used to deal with residence applications in EU member states from third country nationals. In a constitutive scheme, if you miss the deadline to apply for a new status under the WA or your application isn’t successful you will have no residence status and therefore in principle no legal right to reside.

This means that, if your host country is operating a constitutive scheme, it is crucial that you meet the deadline for applying for your new residence status. This deadline cannot be earlier than 30 June 2021 (6 months after the end of the transition period) and in some host countries may be later – but don’t miss it!

British in Europe stress that it's important to read their full guidance note to understand all the issues around gaining residency in an EU country. You can read the full document HERE.

 

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BREXIT

UK driving licences in Spain: When no news is bad news

The UK Ambassador to Spain has given an update on the driving licence debacle, with nothing new to genuinely give hope to the thousands of in-limbo drivers whose increasing frustration has led one group to try and take matters into their own hands.

UK driving licences in Spain: When no news is bad news

It’s been almost five months since UK driving licence holders residing in Spain were told they could no longer drive on Spanish roads. 

Since that fateful May 1st, an unnamed number of the approximately 400,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain, as well as hundreds if not thousands of Spaniards and foreign nationals who passed their driving test in the UK, have not been able to use their vehicles in Spain or even rent one. 

What adds insult to injury is that British tourists visiting Spain can rent a car without any issue. The fact that Spanish licence holders living in the UK can also continue to exchange their permits in the UK 21 months after Brexit came into force is equally hard to swallow.

READ MORE: ‘An avoidable nightmare’ – How UK licence holders in Spain are affected by driving debacle

The latest update from UK Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott on September 27th has done little to quell the anger and sense of helplessness felt by those caught in this bureaucratic rabbit hole.

“I wanted to talk to you personally about the driving licences negotiations, which I know are continuing to have a serious impact on many of you,” Elliott began by saying.

“As the government’s representative in Spain, I hear and understand your frustrations. I too am frustrated by the pace.

“We previously thought, we genuinely thought, that we’d have concluded negotiations by the summer. 

“Many of you have quite rightly mentioned that I expressed the hope to you that we’d have you back on the road by the end of July.

“Now the truth is it has taken much longer, as there have been unforeseen issues that we have been working very hard to resolve. 

“And I’m as disappointed as you are by the length of time that this is actually taking. 

“But, please, be assured that we are resolving those issues, one by one. There are only a couple of issues left, but they are complex.”

It has previously been suggested by the UK Embassy that Spain has asked for data provision to form part of the exchange agreement, and that British authorities were reluctant to share said information on British drivers’ records, including possible infractions. 

Whether this is still one of the causes of the holdups is unknown, given how opaque the Embassy is being in this regard. 

“We’re working on this every day, it remains a priority,” the UK Ambassador continued.

“There is a lot going on behind the scenes, even if it doesn’t feel like it to you. 

“I know too that you want a timescale and you want an update after every meeting.

“But I’m afraid I just can’t give you those things in this negotiation.” 

The ambassador’s words are unlikely to appease those who are still unable to drive. 

A few weeks ago, a Facebook group called “Invasion of the British embassy in Madrid for the DL exchange issue” was set up, which so far has more than 400 members. 

The group’s administrator, Pascal Siegmund, is looking to set up a meeting with the British Embassy and Spanish authorities to shed light on the impact that not being allowed to drive is having on the life of thousands of UK licence holders in Spain. 

Many of those affected are sharing their stories online, explaining how, due to administrative errors on the part of Spain’s DGT traffic authority, they were unable to process their licence exchange before the deadline. 

This contrasts with the little sympathy shown by UK licence holders who were able to exchange and other commentators, who accuse those in limbo of not having bothered to complete the process, arguing that it’s essentially their own fault.

READ ALSO: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault 

“Many of you also continue to ask why you can’t drive while the talks are continuing,” Elliott remarked.

“It is not in the gift of the UK government to reinstate the measures which previously allowed you to continue to drive whilst the negotiations were ongoing earlier in the year. 

“As we said previously, we did request the reinstatement of those measures several times, but this wasn’t granted.”

It’s worth noting that since the news broke on May 1st that UK licence holders residing in Spain for more than six months could no longer drive, no Spanish news outlet has covered the story again. 

Pressure from citizen groups such as the one recently set up and increased awareness about the issue in English-language news sites such as The Local Spain is perhaps the best chance in-limbo drivers have of their voices being heard and the driving licence debacle being finally fixed. 

“I’d say we’re genuinely still making progress,” UK Ambassador Elliott concluded, practically the same message as in previous updates.

“I get how frustrating it is to hear that, but we are making progress. We’re in discussions almost daily about outstanding issues. 

“And I remain very optimistic that we will reach an agreement and hope it will be soon. 

“But as I say, I can’t give you a definitive timetable. 

“And so, the advice that we have been giving all along, which is that you should consider taking the Spanish test if you do need to drive urgently, remains valid. Though we appreciate that’s hard.”

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