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BREXIT

‘Doors will close for Brits in EU’: Why the UK’s post-Brexit immigration plan has sparked alarm

It's fair to say the UK government's planned new post-Brexit immigration system - with its language requirements and minimum salary levels for EU migrants - has sparked worry among British groups in Europe.

'Doors will close for Brits in EU': Why the UK's post-Brexit immigration plan has sparked alarm
Photo: AFP

The UK government announced its planned new immigration system this week and it immediately sparked concern for the future of those Britons who want to move to the EU in future.

The new points-based system to replace the freedom of movement which allowed EU nationals to move to freely to the UK will be implemented once the Brexit transition period comes to an end. That date is currently set for December 31st 2020, but it may be pushed back.

While Britons currently living in the EU and those who move before the end of the transition period are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement, it is unclear what the rules will be for future generations, although they will become third-country nationals.

But how easy it will be for Brits to move to France, Italy or Spain in future could depend on what kind of system the UK puts in place after Brexit, which is why many are concerned. Brits living in Europe now could face tough choices in the future and those hoping to move to the EU could find doors are closed.

The UK government said this week it wanted to take “full control” of its borders by installing an Australian-style points-based system, that would effectively close the doors to unskilled EU workers as well as those who can't speak English to the required standard.

In a statement the government said: “These new arrangements will take effect from January 1st 2021, once freedom of movement with the European Union (EU) has ended. It will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally and aims to attract people who can contribute to the UK’s economy.

“The points-based system will include a route for skilled workers who have a job offer from an approved employer sponsor. 

“From January 2021, the job you’re offered will need to be at a required skill level of RQF3 or above (equivalent to A level). You’ll also need to be able to speak English. The minimum general salary threshold will be reduced to £25,600.

And the government adds that there'll be no “immigration route specifically for low-skilled workers” or indeed for the self-employed.

There will also be language restrictions for students.

“Student visa routes will be opened up to EU, EEA and Swiss citizens.

“You’ll be able to apply for a visa to study in the UK if you: have been offered a place on a course, can speak, read, write and understand English and have enough money to support yourself and pay for your course.”

While the plans are for migrants heading to the UK, the strict rules are understandably a cause for concern for those British nationals who may want to move the other way in future or indeed move back to Britain with their EU partners.

Kalba Meadows from British in Europe told The Local that Brits living in Europe may be forced into a tough choice in future.

“For British nationals living in the EU with non British spouses or partners, it will effectively close off the possibility in future of returning to the UK to live unless they choose to leave their partner behind.

“What if they have elderly parents in the UK who need their care … do they really have to choose between partner and parents?”

While nothing has been announced by EU member states there are fears countries will follow the principle of reciprocity and it will therefore become much harder to move to the EU.

“It's inevitable that there will be knock on-effects of reciprocity,” said Meadows.

“We can expect British people wanting to move to France or other EU countries in future to have a much harder time of things.

“So many of us have moved to France, for example, over the last few years to start small businesses … with the UK now closing its doors to anyone wanting to be self-employed we might expect that door to be – if not closed completely to us – become decidedly sticky and difficult to open.”

Michael Harris from Eurocitizens in Spain said: “If Britain does decide to stop any freedom of movement from the EU after 01/01/21, this will obviously be reciprocal for Britons in the UK wanting to move to the EU – and there is very little we can do to stop it.”

Harris also points that the UK's stance will make it far less likely for the EU to agree to granting Brits already in the EU onward freedom of movement, which effectively landlocks Brits in the country they are in. 

British in Europe's Fiona Godfrey added: “This will have repercussions for UK nationals already living in the EU. We are still waiting for some countries to decide how they will register  us under the Withdrawal Agreement and this probably won’t help persuade them to choose the declaratory option rather than the re-registration option. 

“And, of course, it’s not going to help Brits who want or need to leave their host country to find work elsewhere in the EU if the member states reciprocate, which we expect them to do. 
 
“All in all, it’s more British exceptionalism, insularity and delusion. It would be embarrassing were it not for the fact that so many UK  lives and livelihoods in the EU, and EU lives and livelihoods in the UK are dependent on the UK government acting in good faith and treating EU nationals living there as assets to the country rather than units of “cheap labour.” The hostile environment has to stop.”
 
Paul Hearn from the organisation Brexpats Hear Our Voice told The Local: “I'd say that it is too early to suggest that any states would apply any different criteria to migrating UK citizens than they do to migrants from any other country.  Although the UK Government are proposing a different migration policy to that which currently exist in the UK, it is not specifically directed at the EU, but will apply to migrants from anywhere.  
 
“What is possible is that many states could review their policies to determine if there is any merit to be taken from tightening their systems along lines similar to the policy proposed for adoption in the UK from January 2021.
 
There were also concerns expressed by people on Twitter.
Much of the focus was on languages and how Brits hoping to move to the EU would struggle to meet any requirements if they were imposed by EU member states.
 
Fiona Harrison said: “Unfortunately this will also probably mean the Brits can’t work in the EU if arrangements are reciprocal. How many of us really speak languages? We rely on English being fairly universal.”
 
And Bruce Banner asked what the reaction would be if France and Spain forced all British people to speak French and Spanish before they moved. While most Britons do learn the local language it is more often than not only after they have made the move.

Over the coming months EU governments are due to announce their own criteria for post-Brexit immigration. 

Given the UK's planned system, it is no wonder so many Britons are reportedly rushing to move to the EU before the end of the transition period.

 

 

 

Member comments

  1. Funny enough most Europeans I know have a level of English good enough to meet the expected level required for post Brexit imigration into the UK, while most British people I know – back in the UK – have no second language skills and would find it difficult to meet the local language requirements (B1/B2) for imigration. Last year our daughter finished her “Bi-lingual Abi”, the entire class has English B2/C1 and French B2, on top of German naturally.

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BREXIT

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”

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