Following the end of the post-Brexit transition at the start of this year, an estimated 100,000 British citizens will need to register with the authorities to receive proof of their new residence title.
A few weeks ago, The Local surveyed almost 120 Brits across all corners of Germany, from Schwabing to Schleswig-Holstein, about their experiences of trying to secure these residence titles.
Most of the respondents agreed that the process itself had been relatively smooth, and surprisingly un-bureaucratic (for German bureaucracy, that is). However, many Brits also complained of a lack of consistent communication from the authorities, the long wait for the residence title card, and of feeling like their life was on hold until they received confirmation of their status.
Unlike other EU countries such as France and Austria, Germany has chosen a “declaratory” system for implementing the rights of British residents set out in the Withdrawal Agreement. This means that, rather than having to go through an application process to secure their right to remain in the country, Brits in Germany simply have to register with authorities to get the rights that they have officially documented.
To obtain a physical residence title card as proof of their status, British citizens must register with state immigration authorities and attend an appointment where they pay a €37 fee, provide fingerprints and documents, and show evidence that they have been in Germany since before the transition period.
The German government has given Brits a June 30th deadline by which to register, though it is still unclear what will happen to those British citizens who fail to register in time.
“[The process] was actually really simple,” said Mark Cooper, 46, who lives in Munich. “I expected it to be more complicated and involve a lot of forms – in typical German style – but it was actually very quick and straightforward.”
“Compared to any other process in Germany, this was by far the most straightforward,” agreed 41-year-old Berlin resident Jamie Barry.
Ian Beach, 52, who lives in Gernsbach, Baden-Württemberg, said he “couldn’t believe it was so easy.”
In most parts of Germany, foreigners’ authorities have been offering appointments to Brits since the start of the year – when the UK’s Brexit transition period ended and the UK left the European Economic Area (EEA).
In The Local’s survey, about 75 percent of Brits said they had already had their appointment or had been given an appointment with the foreigner’s office ahead of June 30th. Around 22 percent of respondents said they were still waiting for their appointments, while a small number of people had been given appointments that were later cancelled because of Covid-19.
Of the people who had had appointments, around 55 percent had already received their card, while about 45 percent were still waiting.
Kept in the dark
Though most people described the process of getting the new residence card as “simple” or “straightforward”, many also commented on the lack of communication they received from the authorities in their state, and the difficulty of obtaining clear information.
“There has been zero information from the government,” said 60-year-old Vin Bar, who lives in Berlin. “Facebook has been my only source of information, even though I’ve been registered as a British resident [in Germany] for 12 years.”
For those who were asked to send off documentation to the foreigner’s office, the lack of updates or confirmation of receipt also felt disconcerting.
“It was simple but there wasn’t any sort of update,” said Carl Flynn, a resident of Leipzig. “I sent off my documents in January, did not get anything until March. Then the email invitation was poorly formatted, and only in German. I thought it might be fake.”
The fact that Brits had to wait until after the end of the transition period to obtain their new residence title was also a point of confusion and contention.
“Once I could find the information the process was quite smooth,” said Susanne McKinnley, who lives in Wiesbaden. “But very confusing why it wasn’t possible to get before and why it takes more than three months to receive the card.”
John Maidment, who lives in Berlin, was granted a permanent residence permit in 2019 after filling in a form on Berlin’s registration portal for Brits. Now, with the switch to a new system of affirming the rights of UK citizens post-Brexit, he has had to swap this for a different document – the new residence title.
There was a “lack of consistent communication”, he said, adding that the whole process had been “too long and drawn out”.
“I feel like we have to stay put”
For some of the Brits who still haven’t had their appointment, or who are waiting for their residence title to arrive by post, the delay has caused significant anxiety and a reluctance to travel abroad.
Nadine Stares, 40, who lives in Munich, said she and her family didn’t want to risk visiting relatives abroad until she got her new residence title.
“I feel like we simply have to stay put until we hear,” she said. “Frustrating as one set of our parents are in Switzerland – only five hours away, but over a border – and the others are in the UK. My partner’s mother has received an alarming health diagnosis, so we would like to be closer.”
Richard Matthews, 58, who lives in Würzburg, had similar worries before getting his residence title.
“I had been afraid to leave Germany for fear of not being allowed back in,” he said, though he admits that the Covid-19 restrictions have made the lack of travel a “bit of a moot point”.
“It’s rather stressful that I still haven’t got an appointment and most of my friends have,” said 31-year-old Sarah Jin. “It’s not clear what I should do if I still don’t receive an appointment by June 30th. If I don’t receive an appointment by June 30th, can I travel? What is my residency status in that case? This is a bit disconcerting.”
Though Brits in Germany have been reassured that the Withdrawal Agreement protects their rights, not having proof of these rights has made the last six months a nail-biting affair, with the lag impacting job applications, travel plans and even benefits claims.
“While I feel confident in the knowledge I am officially entitled to stay here as per the withdrawal agreement, it would be better if I could prove it,” explained Chris Siedeberg, 41, who lives in Cologne.
“It is disconcerting to be living in a country for which I have no document that allows me to be here. The foreigner’s office had an email address for Brexit queries which no longer works. The radio silence from the city is disconcerting, however I am not far enough through the process to claim to have any experience of it.”
For 54-year-old Bochum-resident Timothy Davies, the lack of a post-Brexit residence title almost led the job centre to cut off financial support.
“I needed the process to be speedy as I am currently unemployed due to Covid and the job centre were threatening to stop my money without official confirmation of my status,” he said. “There was no information about the process available at the time so I sent all my paperwork to the foreigner’s office that I thought they would need. They were good and sent a letter confirming my status until the formal appointment.”
As with many aspects of German life, getting the new residence title quickly and efficiently can be something of a postcode lottery. While for Adam Park in Konstanz, the process was “a breeze”, Colin in North Rhine-Westphalia revealed that his district had yet to give out a single appointment.
“Absolute shambles,” he said.
Thanks to everyone who shared their experience with us. Although we weren’t able to include all the submissions, we read each of them and are sincerely grateful to everybody who took the time to fill in the survey.