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BREXIT

Key victory for family rights of Britons returning to the UK from EU

Citizens rights group were celebrating on Monday after the House of Lords - the upper house of the UK parliament - voted in favour of maintaining the family reunification rights of Britons who move back to the UK from the EU.

Key victory for family rights of Britons returning to the UK from EU
Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Members of the House of Lords voted in favour of an amendment to the immigration bill that would allow Britons established in the EU before the end of the Brexit transition period to maintain the right to return to the UK with their European family members without them being subject to strict immigration rules and means tests.

Currently the law for Britons living in the EU is that they will be to bring non-British family members, including children, partners, parents and grandparents if they return to the UK before the end of March 2022.

Standard immigration rules will then apply to relatives brought in after the cut-off date meaning they would be subject to strict immigration rules, visa obligations and financial means tests.

The vote in the Lords was delayed from last week and came after hundreds of UK citizens living in the European Economic Area and Switzerland wrote to peers over recent weeks to explain what it would mean to them and their families if they were unable to return to live in the UK with our non-UK partners after March 2022.

The campaign group British in Europe reacted to the vote saying: “Peers heard our voices, took notice of our concerns, and voted to keep families together, and we are immensely thankful to them for doing so.”

However the ball is now in the hands of PM Boris Johnson's government who must decide whether to accept the amendment as part of the new law when the bill returns to the lower House of Commons.

British in Europe have long complained that the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement in fact locks many Britons out of the UK because they would not be able to return home with their non-British partners in the future.

Those who return to care for family members for example won't be able to reach the minimum income requirements currently in place.

“Elderly parents will not have carers, siblings will not have support and non-British parents will be separated from their British children,” British in Europe said.

“Nobody voted for British citizens to lose this right to return with our families. During the Referendum, Vote Leave and the current Prime Minister promised us that our rights would not be adversely affected by Brexit.

“But this Government’s planned changes to the immigration rules remove this most fundamental of rights. Thanks to this afternoon’s vote, the Government has another opportunity to make good on part of its pre-Brexit promises to 1.2 million UK citizens living in the EEA and Switzerland.

“We are a finite group of people asking only that our rights should not be taken away from us.

“Our amendment covers only those UK citizens in the EEA/Switzerland who fall within scope of the withdrawal agreements and who have existing non-British close family members at the end of 2020.

“Most of us will probably not leave the countries where we have made a home, but what we are asking for is the right to do so with our families if necessary. Is that too much for British citizens to ask of a British Government?”
 

 

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BREXIT

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.

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