OPINION: ‘Sweden must step up its efforts to reach Brits as post-Brexit deadline looms’

Sweden needs to release more data on the Brits whose post-Brexit residence status applications have been rejected, and have a clear plan in place for those at risk of missing the deadline altogether, writes David Milstead of the Facebook group Brits in Sweden.

A person getting their fingerprints taken at the Migration Agency.
Brits have until September 30th to apply for their post-Brexit residence status in Sweden. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

At the end of 2020 Sweden introduced a new immigration status (uppehållsstatus) and protections for cross-border workers to protect Brits who would otherwise be left without rights when the transition year ended. The deadline for applications for uppehållsstatus is looming (September 30th) and it’s worth asking how well the programme has been working. The report card is mixed.

Anecdotally from the Brits in Sweden Facebook community, the vast majority of applications are being approved. However, Migration Agency case workers sometimes make what are felt to be unreasonable demands. Furthermore, though the average waiting time is two to three months there are often far longer delays. Also, while most are clued up on the need to apply, a few aren’t and they are often those Brits who’ve been here the longest.

Anecdotes about Sweden’s protections have a value but give an incomplete picture and should ideally be matched with quantitative data. Regrettably, even at this late stage in the application window, there is little relevant data published by the Migration Agency. The explanation given for not including uppehållsstatus in the Migration Agency’s regularly updated statistical overview of applications is that uppehållsstatus is new. However, the application period for uppehållsstatus is short (10 months) and will soon end. The absence of detailed published data makes scrutiny difficult. Furthermore, the data that are public raise concerns.

When uppehållsstatus is discussed in the media, the headline figures tend to be the number of applications and the number of citizens who need uppehållsstatus to retain their rights on October 1st. The official target is for 17,000 applications and the data show that around 10,000 applications have so far been made. However, the target is known to be an overestimate due to many Brits recently becoming Swedish citizens.

Furthermore, there are many Brits who weren’t included in the 17,000 estimate as they had secure residence but who will have applied anyway to retain enhanced family unification rights. In other words the difference between the official target and the number of applications is not a particularly useful proxy for determining how many need to apply. The absence of any serious public assessment on the number of unprotected Brits is worrying especially in view of the impending deadline. If that number is large Sweden should consider extending the deadline, as was done in France and the Netherlands. 

Maybe we shouldn’t worry about those who don’t apply in time. I’ve often seen it remarked that they would only have themselves to blame. However, this ignores the many vulnerable people who aren’t web-savvy. As for those who arguably should have known and acted, the referendum was five years ago and life (and residence rights) have carried on as normal. It is easy for someone who doesn’t follow the news and is without British friends in Sweden to not know about the need to apply. Furthermore, cross-border travel has been massively suppressed due to Covid-19 so there wouldn’t even be a trigger at passport control.   

The Withdrawal Agreement recognises that we are all fallible and places a legal responsibility on the host state to reach out to the community to inform them about uppehållsstatus. Brits in Denmark and the Netherlands have received letters from the government telling them to apply. Sweden’s outreach effort is perceived to be weak in comparison. 

Furthermore, Sweden has given no substantive explanation on how Brits without rights on October 1st will be treated. According to the Withdrawal Agreement, anyone who can supply a good reason for not applying on time can be considered. However, Sweden needs to define what they regard as good reasons. In addition, social benefits and the right to work are linked to having a legal residence status. Will Brits who don’t apply find themselves effectively falling off a cliff-edge on October 1st?     

When it comes to outcomes of those applications that have been made, the Joint Committee which oversees the implementation of the common Withdrawal Agreement residence protections in the UK and the EU reports that 8.5 percent of applications for work/residence protections in Sweden did not lead to a permit being given. This is higher than reported for states which host British populations which may be expected to have similar demographic profiles as that in Sweden, such as the Netherlands, Finland and Denmark. In those countries, only 1-3 percent of applications didn’t lead to a status.

The equivalent figure for the UK’s Settled Status programme is 4.9 percent though this also includes rejected applications from EU nationals who are dual UK-EU citizens (and thus have residence security) but who can’t hold the Settled Status immigration title. 

The UK voted in 2016 to leave the European Union. Photo: AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali

There are certainly possible reasons for such a large difference in outcomes between Sweden and other countries which are not alarming. For example, Sweden has comparatively generous citizenship rules which thousands of Brits have used as a Brexit lifeboat. This skews the data such that applications in Sweden are dominantly (though not exclusively) made by Brits who arrived in the past five years.

However, the Netherlands and Finland also publish the proportion of applications that didn’t lead to a residence status from Brits who typically moved to those states in the past five years. These data also seem to be at around the 2-3 percent level.

Another factor that may explain the difference is data definition. Sweden may include repeated applications or applications for cross-border residence permits in its figures which may be omitted in other countries. There may also be differences in the breakdown of reasons why applications weren’t granted (i.e. formally refused, withdrawn/invalid or incomplete). The question of whether the Brit in Sweden is treated fairly (or unfairly) compared to other Brits in the EU (or EU citizens in the UK) is a basic one to which, unfortunately, a firm answer can’t be given, despite the data raising concerns. 

If comparisons between countries on application rejections are tricky, they can be made between different groups of Brits in Sweden applying for uppehållsstatus. The Migration Agency supplied on request data related to applications made up to the end of July. Outcomes for different applicant categories, eg employee, self-sufficient and student can thus be studied.

Around 10 percent of applications made under the student category didn’t lead to a status being granted. This rises to 14 percent for self-sufficient applicants, which may be related to a demand by the Migration Agency for some self-sufficient applicants to show up to five years’ worth of funding. This demand seems both odd and excessive given that a Brit can change category from eg self-sufficient to worker at any point. Furthermore, EU citizens in Sweden whose residence rights are nominally governed by the same rules as Brits under the Withdrawal Agreement do not face such a demand. 

What about cross-border workers? Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Another worrying statistic concerns applications for a cross-border worker certificate to allow a Brit who lives elsewhere but who worked in Sweden in 2020 to continue to do so. Around 50 percent of these applications failed. Limited anecdotal evidence suggests Sweden is not taking into account Covid-related difficulties in cross-border working during 2020. There can be other explanations such as posted workers from the UK applying even though they are not eligible. However, the data require an explanation. 

One should spare a thought for those who have applied but are waiting for a decision. The average time to a decision is around 2.5 months according to a poll in Brits in Sweden. However, the distribution of waiting times has very large tails.  Anyone who worries that they still don’t have a decision after applying in December when the scheme started should be aware that they’re not alone. The Migration Agency states that there were 162 such people living in limbo at the end of July. 

As mentioned at the start of this piece, the report card is mixed. On one hand, the majority of Brits are empirically sailing through. On the other hand, despite applying as soon as the application window opened, some Brits are still waiting for a decision. Furthermore, a demand from the Migration Agency on self-supporting Brits and data on application outcomes raises concerns. Worryingly there may be thousands who will even miss out on applying by the deadline with little information on how they will be treated.  

Going forward in the limited time left, it is essential that Sweden steps up its outreach efforts and makes public plans for dealing with late applications and applicants. If the number of unprotected Brits is large, Sweden should consider extending the deadline. Furthermore, comprehensive data on applications and outcomes need to be published, ideally with an analysis of why some applications fail. Finally, it may be worth the Migration Agency prioritising applications from those who have waited the longest for a decision. 

Member comments

  1. I’ve mulled over this article for a couple of days now and still can’t get my head round why the Swedish or British authorities should chase those who haven’t yet sorted out their post-Brexit residency status. One must be leading an extremely sheltered life somewhere in the vast Swedish forest or alone on a small island to not have heard about Brexit and the subsequent new residency status of hundreds of thousands of British people who live somewhere within the EU.

    I’ve also seen a few mentions in the France edition of The Local of British people living a secluded life out in the French countryside who seem to be blissfully unaware that they need to update their status, with the imminent danger of losing their health insurance entitlements and much more. And presumably a similar situation can be found in places other than just Sweden and France.

    Even the old chestnut of not having access to the internet is running out of steam. There will of course always be people who refuse to have a television, computer, smartphone, or the paper version of a newspaper or whatever, but as a ‘foreigner’ one surely has the moral obligation to keep abreast of local residency laws and permits and keep an eye out for when they need to be renewed or the status needs to be updated.

    1. I agree with you completely, why are they more special than any other immigrant to the country? It’s pure entitlement, honestly if they miss the deadline they should be deported like every other person who breaks the law.

  2. This manifesto belongs to Facebook, where it originally came from. Entitled rubbish and a waste of bytes.

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How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

Non-EU citizens living in the European Union are eligible for a special residence status that allows them to move to another country in the bloc. Getting the permit is not simple but may get easier, explains Claudia Delpero.

How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

The European Commission proposed this week to simplify residence rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the European Union.

The intention is to ease procedures in three areas: acquiring EU long-term residence status, moving to other EU countries and improving the rights of family members. 

But the new measures will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council, which is made of national ministers. Will EU governments support them?

What is EU long-term residence?

Non-EU citizens who live in EU countries on a long-term basis are eligible for long-term residence status, nationally and at the EU level. 

This EU status can be acquired if the person has lived ‘legally’ in an EU country for at least five years, has not been away for more than 6 consecutive months and 10 months over the entire period, and can prove to have “stable and regular economic resources” and health insurance. Applicants can also be required to meet “integration conditions”, such as passing a test on the national language or culture knowledge. 

The EU long-term residence permit is valid for at least five years and is automatically renewable. But the status can be lost if the holder leaves the EU for more than one year (the EU Court of Justice recently clarified that being physically in the EU for a few days in a 12-month period is enough to maintain the status).

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: How many non-EU citizens live in European Union countries?

Long-term residence status grants equal treatment to EU nationals in areas such as employment and self-employment or education. In addition, EU long-term residence grants the possibility to move to other EU countries under certain conditions. 

What does the European Commission want to change?

The European Commission has proposed to make it easier to acquire EU long-term residence status and to strengthen the rights associated with it. 

Under new measures, non-EU citizens should be able to cumulate residence periods in different EU countries to reach the 5-year requirement, instead of resetting the clock at each move. 

This, however, will not apply to individuals who used a ‘residence by investment’ scheme to gain rights in the EU, as the Commission wants to “limit the attractiveness” of these routes and not all EU states offer such schemes. 

All periods of legal residence should be fully counted towards the 5 years, including those spent as students, beneficiaries of temporary protection or on temporary grounds. Stays under a short-term visa do not count.

Children who are born or adopted in the EU country having issued the EU long-term residence permit to their parents should acquire EU long-term resident status in that country automatically, without residence requirement, the Commission added.

READ ALSO: Why it may get easier for non-EU citizens to move to another European Union country

EU countries should also avoid imposing a minimum income level for the resources condition but consider the applicant’s individual circumstances, the Commission suggests.

Integration tests should not be too burdensome or expensive, nor should they be requested for long-term residents’ family reunifications. 

The Commission also proposed to extend from 12 to 24 months the possibility to leave the EU without losing status, with facilitated procedures (no integration test) for the re-acquisition of status after longer absences.

A person who has already acquired EU long-term residence status in one EU country should only need three years to acquire the same status in another EU member state. But the second country could decide whether to wait the completion of the five years before granting social benefits. 

The proposal also clarifies that EU long-term residents should have the same right as EU nationals with regard to the acquisition of private housing and the export of pensions, when moving to a third country. 

Why make these changes?

Although EU long-term residence exists since 2006, few people have benefited. “The long-term residents directive is under-used by the member states and does not provide for an effective right to mobility within the EU,” the Commission says. 

Around 3.1 million third-country nationals held long-term residence permits for the EU in 2017, compared to 7.1 million holding a national one. “we would like to make the EU long-term residence permit more attractive,” said European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

The problems are the conditions to acquire the status, too difficult to meet, the barriers faced when moving in the EU, the lack of consistency in the rights of long-term residents and their family members and the lack of information about the scheme.

Most EU member states continue to issue “almost exclusively” national permits unless the applicant explicitly asks for the EU one, an evaluation of the directive has shown.

READ ALSO: Pensions in the EU: What you need to know if you’re moving country

This proposal is part of a package to “improve the EU’s overall attractiveness to foreign talent”, address skill shortages and facilitate integration in the EU labour market of people fleeing Ukraine. 

On 1 January 2021, 23.7 million non-EU nationals were residing in the EU, representing 5.3% of the total population. Between 2.25 to 3 million non-EU citizens move to the EU every year. More than 5 million people have left Ukraine for neighbouring states since the beginning of the war in February. 

Will these measures also apply to British citizens?

These measures also apply to British citizens, whether they moved to an EU country before or after Brexit. 

The European Commission has recently clarified that Britons living in the EU under the Withdrawal Agreement can apply for a long-term residence too.

As Britons covered by the Withdrawal Agreement have their residence rights secured only in the country where they lived before Brexit, the British in Europe coalition recommended those who need mobility rights to seek EU long-term residence status. 

These provisions do not apply in Denmark and Ireland, which opted out of the directive.

What happens next?

The Commission proposals will have to be discussed and agreed upon by the European Parliament and Council. This is made of national ministers, who decide by qualified majority. During the process, the proposals can be amended or even scrapped. 

In 2021, the European Parliament voted through a resolution saying that third-country nationals who are long-term residents in the EU should have the right to reside permanently in other EU countries, like EU citizens. The Parliament also called for the reduction of the residency requirement to acquire EU long-term residence from five to three years.

READ ALSO: COMPARE: Which EU countries grant citizenship to the most people?

EU governments will be harder to convince. However, presenting the package, Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said proposals are likely to be supported because “they fit in a broader framework”, which represents the “construction” of the “EU migration policy”. 

National governments are also likely to agree because large and small employers face skill shortages, “especially in areas that are key to our competitiveness, like agri-food, digital, tourism, healthcare… we need people,” Schinas said.

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.