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

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.

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

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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BREXIT

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

As UK driving licence holders in Italy still wait for answers regarding another extension or a long-awaited deal for the mutual exchange of British and Italian licences post-Brexit, we look at how the situation compares to that of their counterparts across Europe.

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

When Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, the British and Italian authorities hadn’t reached a reciprocal agreement on driving licences.

However, UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences in Italy.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered about driving in Italy on a British licence

This was then further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

The UK government announced on December 24th, 2021 that British residents of Italy who didn’t convert their UK licence to an Italian one could continue to use it until December 31st, 2022.

That’s the latest official directive from the authorities, with no decision made on what will happen from January 1st, 2023.

The question on a UK-Italy driving licence agreement rolls on. (Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP)

The latest extension – while providing more time – hasn’t ruled out the need to take the Italian theory and practical driving tests and the clock is ticking again with just over six months left of this grace period.

READ ALSO: How do you take your driving test in Italy?

In fact, the authorities recommend sitting the Italian driving exams whatever the outcome, just in case. The process is known to take months, so UK licence holders find themselves once again taking a gamble on waiting for an accord to be reached or taking the plunge by starting preparations for the tests.

As things stand, the latest update to the driving guidance on the British government’s ‘Living in Italy’ webpage in January states:

“If you were resident in Italy before 1 January 2022 you can use your valid UK licence until 31 December 2022,” however, “you must exchange your licence for an Italian one by 31 December 2022. You will need to take a driving test (in Italian).”

The guidance then states: “The British and Italian governments continue to negotiate long-term arrangements for exchanging driving licences without needing to take a test.”

The Local contacted the British Embassy in Rome to ask for an update on the situation, to which they responded:

“Rest assured the Embassy continues to prioritise the issue of UK driving licence validity in Italy and we continue to engage with the Italian government on this issue.”

Presently, the UK’s new ambassador to Italy, Edward Llewellyn, is touring all 20 regions of Italy and no updates on the driving licence have been given in the meantime.

Could there be a deal which sees all UK licence holders in Italy – those who registered their intent to exchange, those who didn’t, those who did register intent but haven’t been able to finalise the process, and future UK licence holders who move to Italy – able to continue using their UK licences in Italy or easily exchange them for Italian ones without having to sit a driving test?

READ ALSO: ‘Anyone can do it’: Why passing your Italian driving test isn’t as difficult as it sounds

It’s still hard to say, as the authorities continue to advise UK licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while stating that the two governments are still working on an agreement.

The embassy’s most recent announcement was a Facebook post in April acknowledging that “many of you are concerned” about the issue.

“We continue to work at pace to reach a long-term agreement with Italy, so that residents can exchange their UK driving licences without taking a test, as Italian licence holders can in the UK,” the embassy stated.

British residents of Italy can use their driving licenses until the end of this year, the government has confirmed.

British residents of Italy can presently use their driving licences until the end of this year. Photo by PACO SERINELLI / AFP

The embassy reiterated the need for UK licence holders to consider the possibility of obtaining an Italian driving licence via a test, stating: “It is important that you currently consider all your options, which may include looking into taking a driving test now.”

READ ALSO: Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test

So is it true that most European nations have reached successful agreements with the UK over reciprocal driving licence recognition and exchange and the Italian deal is lagging behind?

The evidence suggests so.

UK licence exchange agreements across Europe

As things stand, Italy and Spain are the only European countries where licence exchange negotiations are ongoing.

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions, as authorities have still made no decision on exchanging driving licences or reaching a deal.

UK licence holders in Spain are currently in limbo, unable to drive 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.

French and British authorities reached a licence exchange agreement in June 2021, considered a generous one for UK licence holders residing in France as those with licences issued before January 1st 2021 can continue using their UK licences in France until either the licence or the photocard nears expiry.

Sweden and the UK reached a deal even earlier in March 2021. British people resident in Sweden can exchange their UK driving licences for an equivalent Swedish one, without needing to take a test, just as they could when the country was a member of the European Union. 

In Portugal, resident UK licence holders can continue to use their valid UK licences until December 31st 2022 but they must exchange their licences for Portuguese ones before that date.

Other EU nations which have decided to allow UK licence holders residing in their countries to swap their driving licences without having to take a driving test include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.   

There are slight variations in the conditions between countries, and some say you “can exchange”, others that you “must exchange” and most encourage UK licence holders to swap “as soon as possible”. In Greece, UK licences continue to be valid without any restrictions or deadlines for exchange.

That leaves Italy and Spain as the two EU/EEA countries where a deal on a straightforward exchange or long-term recognition of UK licences among residents is still hanging in the balance.  

The only question that’s left is why. 

Why are the driving rights of all Britons who resided in Italy before December 31st 2020 not part of the other protected rights they enjoy under the Withdrawal agreement? 

And why is it taking so long to reach an exchange deal?

So far, Italian and British officials have not provided answers to these questions.

The Local will continue to ask for updates regarding the use of British driving licences in Italy.

Are you a British resident in Italy affected by this issue? We’d like to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below this article or email the Italian news team here.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.

See The Local’s latest Brexit-related news updates for UK nationals in Italy here.

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