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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

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions two weeks after they were told their UK licences were no longer valid, with the latest update from the UK Embassy suggesting it could still take "weeks" to reach a deal. 

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Spain who are currently in limbo, unable to drive in Spain until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

There are no official stats on how many Britons of the 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022 are affected; according to the UK Embassy the “majority exchanged” as advised.

But judging by the amount of negative comments the last two updates from the British Embassy in Madrid have received, hundreds if not thousands are stuck without being able to drive in Spain.  

May 12th’s video message by Ambassador Hugh Elliott left many unhappy with the fact that the forecast for a possible licence exchange agreement will be in the “coming weeks”, when two weeks earlier Elliott had spoken of “rapidly accelerating talks”. 

Dozens of angry responses spoke of the “shocking” and “absolutely ridiculous” holdup in negotiations that have been ongoing for more than at least a year and a half, and which the UK Embassy has put down to the fact that Spain is asking the British government to give them access to DVLA driver data such as road offences, something “not requested by other EU Member States”.

Numerous Britons have explained the setbacks not being able to drive in Spain are causing them, from losing their independence to struggling to go to work, the hospital or the supermarket, especially those in rural areas with little public transport.  

“I know personally from all the messages you’ve sent in, just how incredibly disruptive all of this is for many of you,” Elliott said in response. 

“If you are struggling to get around you may find additional advice or support from your local town hall, or charities or community groups in your area and the Support in Spain website is another very useful source of organisations that can provide general support to residents.

“And if your inability to drive is putting you in a very vulnerable situation, you can always contact your nearest consulate for advice.”

There continue to be disparaging opinions in the British community in Spain over whether any pity should be felt for UK licence holders stuck without driving, as many argue they had enough time to register intent to exchange their licences, whilst others clarify that their particular set of circumstances, such as arriving after the December 2020 ‘intent to exchange’ deadline, made this impossible. 

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

So is there any light at the end of the tunnel for drivers whose UK licences aren’t valid anymore in Spain or soon won’t be?

“The agreement we’re working towards now will enable UK licence holders, whenever they arrived in Spain or arrive in the future, to exchange their UK licence for a Spanish one without needing to take a practical or a theory test,” Elliott said on Thursday May 12th of the deal they are “fully committed” to achieve.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to get a Spanish driving licence?

And yet it’s hard for anyone to rest their hopes on this necessarily happening – sooner or later or ever – in part because the embassy advice for those with UK licences for whom it’s imperative to continue driving in Spain is that they should take steps to get their Spanish licence now, while acknowledging that in some places there are “long delays for lessons” and getting your Spanish licence “doesn’t happen overnight”.

READ ALSO: What now for UK licence holders in Spain?

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