Brexit: Anger and frustration for Brits in Italy amid confusion over new biometric ID card

Brexit: Anger and frustration for Brits in Italy amid confusion over new biometric ID card
Life in Italy has become more complicated for British nationals after Brexit. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP
Many of Italy’s British residents are being left without healthcare, employment and driving licences as a new electronic ID card is failing to prove their post-Brexit rights, say campaigners.

Brits are now facing a “hostile environment in Italy, where lives have been brought to a standstill”, stated the British in Italy group.

Italian authorities announced the new electronic “tessera” as a means to evidence the rights of British residents in Italy post-Brexit – valid for those who had registered or applied for residency before 31st December 2020.

Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, article 18, paragraph 4, the new digital document will “guarantee easy recognition of the rights” provided for in this accord, read a statement from the Italian Interior Ministry.

Or, not so easy, as it turns out.

The new ID card is not mandatory, and it’s unknown when Brits will receive this document. Some have been informed it could take months from the application date, with reports from Rome’s Questura (police headquarters) that the card hasn’t even been designed yet.

READ ALSO: ‘What I learned when I applied for the Brexit residence card for Brits in Italy’

As the application process and issuing of cards is still in its very early stages, it’s not yet clear whether possessing one will rectify these post-Brexit teething problems for UK nationals.

Nevertheless, it was highly recommended that you apply for it to avoid bureaucratic problems. Such complications included not being able to renew your healthcare card or accessing certain services, for instance.

For some UK nationals in Italy, this is exactly what’s happening.

Paul* is a service engineer in Puglia. He had a fixed-term contract, ‘tempo determinato’, pre-Brexit and his employer wanted to renew it after Britain had left the EU. 

Unfortunately, Paul lost his job as a result of his new non-EU citizen status.

“I suddenly found myself without a job because the system for registering contracts does not recognise my Withdrawal Agreement rights and I am being treated like a newly arrived third-country immigrant. I have a family to support, but cannot work due to a systemic issue. I am very angry and frustrated by this”, he said.

Beyond frustration, it is “serious and dangerous”, according to British in Italy.

“Families are left with no health cover in the middle of the world’s worst pandemic for 100 years – no access to a doctor, only Pronto Soccorso (accident and emergency), which is the last place in the world anyone wants to take a sick child or relative in the middle of the Covid pandemic.”

“All because the computer demands the number of a ‘carta’ or ‘permesso’ which does not yet exist for British nationals covered by the Withdrawal Agreement,” stated the citizens’ rights group.

Therefore, the Italian authorities are seemingly blocked by a system that doesn’t recognise British citizens who were living in Italy pre-Brexit.

Why are the carta di soggiorno and the permesso di soggiorno getting muddled up?

The new electronic ID document is called a ‘carta di soggiorno’, which is different from the similarly named ‘permesso di soggiorno’ – a residence card for third-country nationals entering Italy. Brits who move to Italy from now on will need to apply for this, as they are third-country nationals since Britain left the EU.

However, Brits who had registered or applied for residency in Italy before the end of 2020 have a special status and do not need this ‘permesso’ at all.

EXPLAINED: What are the different documents Italy’s British residents need after Brexit?

For now, this leaves British nationals in limbo, unable to move through Italian bureaucracy.

“Many public administration computer systems are programmed to require a ‘permesso di soggiorno’ number to be inserted for anyone who is not an EU citizen (which we no longer are),” said British in Italy.

Adding to the frustration is the fact that many Questure are not open for applications for the new carta yet and the application process varies from province to province, slowing down and confounding the process further.

“Many of us have already applied for the ‘carta di soggiorno’. Some have been given appointments for their application as far away as August. We can do nothing more than wait,” stated British in Italy.

The problem goes beyond computer systems in need of updates. It’s also a matter of not understanding Brits’ rights under the Withdrawal Agreement, according to the group Beyond Brexit.

“Our rights in Italy do not depend on having the new biometric ID card. Some UK citizens are having problems arising from the very misunderstanding of our rights,” stated a spokesperson.

The group has been contacted for help from Brits in Italy who find themselves unable to get driving licences, work contracts and those who have lost healthcare.

Sarah* in Milan has reached a dead end with her attempt to get a driving licence. Now that Brits need to sit an Italian driving test if they didn’t convert their licence before Brexit, Sarah began the process with a driving school.

She was informed that to book a theory test, she needs an Italian ID card, or ‘carta d’identità’. She hadn’t yet obtained that, so on applying for this at her town hall, she was told she needed the ‘carta di soggiorno’ first.

Sarah has the receipt for the new biometric card after applying for it at the Questura, but doesn’t know when she will receive it. She is confused about what to do in the meantime and doesn’t understand why she needs the new carta di soggiorno before she’s allowed her carta d’identità.

“I am now stuck. I had a residency letter and the attestazione di iscrizione anagrafica but no one was interested in that. My biggest problem is my driver’s licence, as I need my carta d’identità to book my theory test.

“I had hoped I could have this done quickly. Instead, I may not be able to drive here for a while, which is a problem as we have young children and drive most days,” she said.

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For Joanne*, also in Milan, the bureaucracy post-Brexit has been a “struggle”. She’s disabled and has found the new obstacles overwhelming.

“I can’t face going to another public building, another post office queue, where I can’t understand anyone. It’s more the masks and screens than the language that are the problem, as I have sensory processing issues,” she said.

Joanne has had difficulties in accessing healthcare in Italy since Britain left the EU.

“We paid the voluntary contributions for the year and emailed everything to the local ASL healthcare unit (Azienda Sanitaria Locale). They replied saying that because of Brexit they could only enrol me until 30th June 2021.”

“With help from the group, Beyond Brexit, I sent a document stating that our rights remained the same, with my attestazione, and they’ve now enrolled me for the year and assigned a GP,” she added.

What happens if I’m asked to provide a permesso di soggiorno?

If Brits are requested to give a permesso di soggiorno to access services, which they currently don’t have or need, this can impact on almost all aspects of life in Italy.

According to British in Italy, some of the administrative steps that have been blocked in the past few weeks include the following:

  • Unable to renew an existing fixed-term job
  • Unable to get a job.
  • Unable to register as self-employed
  • Unable to get benefits through INPS
  • Unable to get a tessera sanitaria.
  • Unable to renew a tessera sanitaria.
  • Unable to pay voluntary contributions for health care
  • Unable to get pension through INPS
  • Refused childcare nursery voucher by INPS
  • Unable to purchase a house
  • Unable to renew rental contract
  • Unable to enter into a rental contract
  • Unable to purchase a car
  • Unable to purchase a scooter
  • Unable to complete a citizenship application
  • Unable to get a carta d’identità
  • Unable to get a leasing contract for business equipment from Apple Store
  • Unable to change direct debit

A further problem the group has encountered is a lack of information available to professionals such as notai (notaries) and commercialisti (accountants). This leads them to “erroneously refuse to proceed with, for example, some contracts without a document that we neither have, nor are we obliged to have by law,” added the campaign group.

The situation is a “pasticcio”, say British in Italy, and they are calling on the Italian government to urgently fix the situation.

“The British Embassy in Rome is already aware of these problems and we have been asked to keep informing them of all cases. In this way, they can continue to put pressure on the Italian government and Ministero dell’Interno,” stated the group.

Further information on the biometric card can be found on the UK government’s website here.

If you need help applying, you can contact the International Organisation for Migration by emailing [email protected] or calling 800 684 884.

Anyone who faces difficulties in accessing services in Italy is advised to contact the British Embassy via their Living in Italy website. You can also find more information on the British in Italy website and Beyond Brexit page.

*Names have been changed for anonymity


Member comments

  1. We are still trying to make an appointment with our local Questura to acquire the biometric card for UK residents who registered prior to December 31st 2020. We have written to all the available email addresses provided. The only response we have had so far was to contact the Questura in Como, which would be good advice except we live in Massa-Carrara, which we made very clear in our initial inquiry letter written in Italian. We moved here in June last year, have the appropriate documentation: residency certificate and card, also the attestazione. We are sorted out about health and have even acquired an Italian driving licence and managed to register our car in Italy (which wasn’t a small feat). However, the biometric card application process seems to be non-existent in anywhere else but Rome, according to your own journalist. Is there any further help on this. I am considering writing to our Governor or Tuscany, if we cannot get any further information. Although, obviously, a biometric card for UK residents is not the top priority in in Italy at the moment, it would be useful to know if eventually there will be a due process for applying.

    Prof Susan Broadhurst and Neil Harvey

    1. Hello Susan, I would advise you to contact the International Organisation for Migration, which is giving practical assistance to Brits applying for the card. You can get in touch with them by email: [email protected] or phone: 800 684 884.

      You *can* apply for the card outside Rome, and we’ve heard from a number of people who have already done so (and in some cases managed to complete the process more quickly than in Rome). But as ever in Italy, things vary considerably from comune to comune.

      Each questura is supposed to provide a designated email address to book an appointment: here is the one for Massa-Carrara.

      And you can find the British Embassy’s general guide to the process here, if helpful.

      Good luck!

      ~ Jessica at The Local

  2. I was able to obtain an appointment with the questura in Asti only after I applied using a PEC email address (I registered with PosteCert because I already had a certified identity via PosteID). They have given me a list of the documents to bring – including a receipt for the payment of €30.46 for the costs of producing the card. The Questura also re-assured me that it is permissible to travel to the appointment, even when the region is in extreme lockdown, and gave me an appointment card to show any policeman who stopped me. Appointment on Tuesday 16th, it’ll be interesting to see what happens.

    1. Update
      I turned up on time, and had to wait an hour and a half … so far, so normal. There were two policemen dealing with immigration enquiries, both friendly but doing nothing to disprove the theory that “one can read and one can write”. The guy who dealt with me had clearly not gone through the process before and had to be helped by the other.
      There was confusion about what papers I should have brought. The questura had sent me a list: ID card, Declaration from town hall that I had been registered as a resident Brit (since 2011), the receipt, and 4 photos. Now they wanted my passport (as though I was applying for a standard permesso di soggiorno), which I had left at home. Luckily, I had my (long expired) permesso di soggiorno from 2006, which they accepted as evidence I must be British and have a passport.
      At the end of the enrolment process (thumb and index fingerprint for both hands), they told me the new card would take “2 months or a bit longer”, and that I should check a list on Siamodigitali periodically to see when it was time to make an appointment (I groaned, inwardly) to come and collect it.

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