British nationals coming to the EU have previously not needed to have their passport stamps but Brexit and the end of freedom of movement has changed things somewhat.
But while visitors are now subject to the Schengen area's 90-day rule, meaning they can spend a maximum of 90 days out of every 180 in the Schengen area, those Britons living in the EU are not and therefore should not have their passports stamped.
However reports have emerged in recent days that scores of Britons returning from a Christmas break in the UK have had a date stamped into their passport by border officials in EU countries.
There are reports that French border officials are routinely stamping all passports, while The Local has been contacted by Britons returning to Sweden, Germany and other EU countries who have also had an entry date stamped in their passport.
'Contact a lawyer'
Catherine Keens, who returned to Munich from Manchester, said her passport was stamped on arrival in Germany despite her asking border officials not to do so.
“The border control agent seemed unsure whether to stamp our passports or not and asked his colleague, who also seemed unsure. I asked that they didn't stamp our passports, but they were stamped nonetheless,” she said.
“We now both have a stamp in our passports and are concerned that it has started the clock ticking for the 90 days in 180 days scenario, which of course doesn't apply to us as we live here.”
When she contacted the British Consulate in Munich she received some worrying advice.
“I emailed the British Embassy in Munich to ask how we can have this action reversed or made invalid but they have said I need to contact a lawyer to try and find a solution. They say they can't help at all.
“We feel abandoned by the British government and don't really know who to call or what to do about it. We realise there are many more in the same situation, but this is little consolation.”
Britons returning to France over the New Year had similar experiences.
Kalba Meadows from the France Rights group told The Local: “Over the weekend in France, for example, it seems that all entry points were stamping passports – same in many other EU countries.”
Meadows, whose group is part of British in Europe, said she had asked the EU Commission for answers.
'Could be issues down the line'
“The main issue is that a passport stamp means, in theory at least, that the person has entered the Schengen area as a visitor not as a resident, thus setting off the 90 day clock,” she said.
“So there could be issues down the line, in April, when they get to the end of the permitted period for visitors.”
Similar questions have been raised by British in Germany.
“I’ve had reports from Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich and Düsseldorf of people having their passports stamped,” says the group's Matt Bristow.
“Theoretically it sets a clock ticking to leave the Schengen zone within 90 days.”
If you had your passport stamped your right to stay in Germany isn’t affected, Bristow says, but it could lead to questions when crossing the Schengen border in future.
British in Germany are currently speaking to authorities and asking them to formally address this issue.
The Local has asked British government representatives and the EU Commission for a response and for advice for those citizens who have had their passports stamped.
'Just a souvenir'
The UK embassy in Berlin told The Local as expected that residents should not have their passports stamped.
“A stamp in your passport does not alter your rights under the Withdrawal Agreement, such as your right to reside here and to receive a new residence document. We have raised this issue with the German authorities.”
German immigration authorities responded by saying: “Stamping a passport at the border does not mean that a decision on residence status has been taken.
“The stamp merely documents that the passport holder was checked in the place stated on the stamp, whether this check had been performed in the course of an entry or exit, and which means of transport was used.
“The stamp entails neither the loss of rights under the Withdrawal Agreement nor in any other way a change of legal status. Consequently, a stamp on entry does not need to be annulled and may be retained unaltered in the passport as a souvenir.
But German authorities did warn that those with stamps should take proof of residence next time they travel abroad outside the Schengen area.
“If however someone exits the Schengen area more than 90 days after their passport was stamped, then they should also carry with them a document demonstrating their current residence status, for example as a beneficiary of the Withdrawal Agreement,” the statement read.
Meanwhile the British embassy in France has tried to reassure UK residents in France.
'Rights not affected'
In a Facebook post they wrote: “Your rights in France will not be affected if your passport is incorrectly or unnecessarily stamped.
“It will also not affect your ability to apply for a Withdrawal Agreement Residency permit as long as you can demonstrate that you were settled in France by 31 December 2020.
Officials added: “If you cannot show that you are already resident in France, you may be asked additional questions at the border to enter the Schengen area, and your passport may be stamped.
“You will be able to show evidence you live in France (as above) the next time you cross the border.
“The Embassy is liaising with the French authorities on how these rules are being applied at the French border.”
It's likely therefore that the stamping of passports can be put down to teething problems as EU countries become accustomed to Brexit. But while those Brits who have had their passports stamped are told not to worry, it wouldn't be a surprise if some do have issues when crossing Schengen borders in future.
If you have been affected by this issue you can contact The Local at [email protected] or British in Europe on Twitter @BritishinEurope.