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RESIDENCY PERMITS

EU Commission: ‘A stamp in a British passport does not put residency rights into question’

After hundreds of British residents of EU countries had passports stamped when returning from the UK in the New Year the EU Commission has responded to The Local's request for information and advice on their behalf. Here's the response in full.

EU Commission: 'A stamp in a British passport does not put residency rights into question'
Photo: AFP/UK Passport Office
In recent days it has emerged that scores of British nationals living in EU countries have wrongly had their passports stamped with a date of entry when returning home. One couple was told to contact a lawyer by consular officials in Germany.

British nationals coming to the EU have previously not needed to have their passports stamped, but Brexit and the end of freedom of movement has changed things somewhat.

While visitors are now subject to the Schengen area's 90-day rule, meaning they can spend a maximum of 90 days out of every 180 in the Schengen area, those Britons legally resident in the EU are not, and therefore should not have their passports stamped.

But since January 1st scores of UK residents in the EU have seen immigration officials stamp their passports with an entry date when returning from the EU.

Many British nationals have contacted The Local, while citizens' rights groups have raised concerns that passport stamps may cause problems the next time British citizens leave the Schengen area if they are over the 90-day limit.

The Local asked the EU Commission to explain why passports were being stamped and what advice it had for British nationals.

 

Passports should not be stamped

Firstly the Commission confirmed that the passports of British residents whose rights are protected by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement should not be stamped. EU officials have tried to get that message across to border police in all member states, they added. 

“We regret the difficulties some UK travellers encountered. We have worked very closely with member states on the implementation of the (Brexit) Withdrawal Agreement to avoid such difficulties. Overall, the changes linked to the end of the transition period and end of application of EU law on free movement of EU citizens to United Kingdom nationals were implemented smoothly.

“Withdrawal Agreement beneficiaries have a right to enter their host member state and their passports should not be stamped when they cross an external Schengen border.

“Withdrawal Agreement beneficiaries are moreover exempted from the Council Recommendation on the temporary restriction on non-essential travel into the EU linked to the coronavirus pandemic. As non-EU nationals legally residing in the EU, they must not be denied boarding for travels into the EU under the Council recommendation.”

READ ALSO: 

 

What if you have no post-Brexit residency permit? 

The problem for many British travellers resident in the EU is that they are not yet in possession of a new post-Brexit residency permit given that many governments have only recently opened the application processes. 

That has left them relying on trying to convince border guards themselves that there was no need to stamp passports.

The EU commission said it has created guidance for all border guards, but it seems that guidance is not being read.

The Commission said: “We have discussed these specific issues in three expert group meetings (June, September and 1 December) and prepared guidance in all languages.

“The final version has been put at the disposal of the member states on 4th December 2020 (in English) and on 23rd December in all other languages (Annex 42 of the Practical Handbook for Border Guards).

The guidance sets out how to identify beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement before these beneficiaries are in possession of a residence document issued in accordance with the Withdrawal Agreement for the purpose of not stamping their passports.”

“We have also prepared a document containing all specimen which will evidence that a person is a beneficiary of the Withdrawal Agreement before being in possession of the document issued in accordance with the Withdrawal Agreement (Annex 43 of the Practical Handbook for Border Guards) based on the input received by Member States. This document has been transmitted to the Member States on 15th December (and updated on 21st December).”

 

Entitled to compensation

The EU Commission said any British traveller who was denied entry to a plane after failing to prove legal residency is entitled to compensation.

“We have also transmitted the information on future rules and provided the specimen to the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s TIMATIC which provides carriers with information about entry procedures and visa requirements in all countries of the world. The onus is on airlines to apply the new rules correctly.

“UK nationals who have been denied boarding by an EU air carrier can seek compensation as well as reimbursement of their ticket or re-routing under Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, unless where the air carrier can prove in the specific case at hand that the denied boarding was based on reasonable grounds related to e.g. inadequate travel documentation.

“Please note that Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 would not apply to those denied boarding by UK carriers from January 1st, 2021. In this case, possible rights in case of denied boarding should be assessed on the basis of UK legislation.”

A stamp is no threat residency 

The final message from the Commission is that an erroneous passport stamp will not put residency rights into question.

It also said British nationals can ask border guards to cross out stamps, as some have done, according to reports we have received.

However, once again, it appears British travellers might have to explain themselves if those immigration officials have not read the “Practical Handbook for Border Guards”.

“If the beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement can provide evidence that they have been incorrectly stamped, the stamp can be annulled by the border guard as explained in the Practical Handbook for Border Guards (see p. 68/69 of the Handbook).

“However, depending on national practices, some Member States may still stamp passports of beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement, even if they hold notified documents: Member States may stamp residence permit they issued themselves and if this possibility is provided by national law.

“In any case, a wrong stamp in a passport can never put into question the right to reside in the host Member State.”

 

Member comments

  1. Of course going the other way, you are on your own. Priti Patel will doubtless deport you if you overstay an erroneous stamp even if you have UK residency established. Wouldn’t be the first time.

  2. While not claiming residency rights, well not yet, we have had a home in Provence for nearly 50 years, have paid taxe d’abitation, and VAT, have a bank account and have,’till now spent 4 or 5 months in France. We have been deprived of our citizenship of Europe and access to our home and assume we must now apply for a visa.

  3. It seems that some people have had the best of both worlds and want their cake and eat it. If you have a home in an EU country besides a home in the UK, you can obviously afford to sort out your residency from the UK before you go back to your EU-country home. Also, you must have known something like the situation you are in would happen, once the referendum vote was announced – that’s four and half years ago. I sorted mine out long ago, even though I was in favour of the UK leaving the EU. I dislike the Schengen Agreement and see it as a way for a (Dis)United States of Europe, which will dilute each countries identity into dust.

    By the way, the two correspondents’ names – Robert Altinger and Raymond Attfield – sound like a psuedonym of each other. A coincidence?

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RESIDENCY PERMITS

Which countries in Europe impose language tests for residency permits?

Certain countries across Europe demand foreign citizens pass a language test to qualify for certain residency permits. But how does each country compare and what level of language do they require?

Which countries in Europe impose language tests for residency permits?

Germany

Germany requires people to have a certain standard of the language to gain permanent residency (Niederlassungserlaubnis / unbefristete Aufenthaltserlaubnis).

When it comes to language skills, the current rules require German at level B1 on the six-level scale of competence laid down in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

This involves taking a test at a language school recognised by authorities. The test includes reading, listening, writing and spoken sections. B1 level on the CEFR scale is defined as being able to “understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.”

Other residency permits, such as the Blue Card, do not generally have formal language requirements.

German citizenship has a B1 language requirement. Note that both citizenship and permanent residency have several other requirements, such as living in Germany legally for a certain period of time.

READ ALSO:

France

At present there is no formal language requirement for residency permits, although for certain groups the Office français de l’immigration et de l’integration (OFII) can require people to attend French classes. The classes are provided for free in most circumstances.

This could change, however, as the Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has outlined a plan to make French test compulsory for certain types of long-term residency permit.

At this stage his plan has little detail, so we don’t know what level of French will be required, but it seems to be targeted only at those who are seeking a long-term residency permit, so new arrivals will not be required to have mastered French in advance. The plan does not affect people applying for visas.

READ ALSO French language tests for the carte de séjour: What we know so far

Only French citizenship has a formal language requirement at present – those applying for citizenship through residency need to present a certificate, no more than two years old, to show that they have passed writing, reading, listening and speaking tests at B1 level. A previous exemption for over 60s was scrapped in 2020. 

TEST: Is your French good enough for citizenship and residency?

Spain

Spain doesn’t currently have any language level requirements to obtain residency, and there is no evidence that this is or has ever been considered. 

The country does however expect foreigners applying for Spanish citizenship to prove some command of the Spanish language by obtaining an A2 DELE qualification (Diploma de Español como Lengua Extranjera) if they’re not originally from a Spanish speaking country. 

The A2 level is still fairly basic however, it’s the second lowest and equates to being a high-level beginner capable of understanding and putting together everyday sentences.

There’s also a language requirement for foreigners from non-Spanish speaking countries who want to have their qualifications recognised to work in regulated professions in Spain (homologación) – a B2 – equal to a high intermediate.

Even though proving a good command of Spanish isn’t a requirement for residency, learning the language is a must for foreigners. Unlike in other European countries such as the Netherlands or Scandinavian nations, Spaniards don’t generally speak English, so learning at least some Spanish is essential for everyday tasks, unless foreigners only want to stay in so-called ‘expat bubbles’.

Switzerland

Whether granting permanent residency or citizenship, whether you are ‘successfully integrated’ is the major question for Swiss authorities. 

Being successfully integrated means that they “should participate in the economic, social and cultural life of society”, according to the State Secretariat for Migration, which includes speaking at least one of Switzerland’s languages. 

Reader question: What does being ‘successfully integrated’ in Switzerland mean?

However, the level of language proficiency differs depending on the type of residency permission you want: residency permit, permanent residency or Swiss citizenship. 

Fortunately for new arrivals, you do not need to show Swiss language proficiency to get a standard residency permit. 

Generally speaking, those on short-term residency permits – such as B Permits and L Permits – are not required to show proficiency in a national language. 

There are some exceptions – for instance people on family reunification permits – however by and large people who have just arrived in Switzerland for work do not need to demonstrate language proficiency. 

Permanent residents however will need to demonstrate language proficiency. 

EXPLAINED: What’s the difference between permanent residence and Swiss citizenship?

For ordinary permanent residency – which is granted after an uninterrupted stay of five years or ten years in total – you need to demonstrate A2 level of a spoken Swiss language and A1 written. 

Citizens of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain are exempt from these language requirements. 

For fast-tracked permanent residency, the language level is a little higher. 

You must demonstrate A1 written but B1 spoken. 

There are also exceptions for people who can demonstrate they have a Swiss language as their mother tongue, or that they have attended compulsory schooling for a minimum of three years in a Swiss language. 

Demonstrating language proficiency must be done through an accredited test centre. The accreditation process is handled at a cantonal level. More information is available here

More information about language requirements – including what you need for Swiss citizenship – is available at the following link. 

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about Swiss language tests for residency

Norway

Residence permits in Norway come in two forms, permanent and temporary. There are no language requirements or tests for temporary permits, nor are there any plans in the works to bring them in. 

Permanent residence does come with language requirements, however. Depending on where you are from, the type of temporary permit you have held, whether you were granted residency to live with somebody in Norway, and their situation, you will need to complete between 250550 hours of Norwegian language tuition and complete a social studies course.

In some situations, you can get around the language tuition by proving that you have adequate knowledge of Norwegian. For example, if you have passed all four parts of the Norwegian exam at a minimum of level A2: oral, listening, reading and written presentation, you do not need to meet the tuition requirements. 

Similarly, when applying for citizenship, you will need to meet language requirements. EU and non-EU citizens must pass an oral Norwegian language test at either A2 or B1 level. A2 refers to an elementary level of Norwegian, and B1 is considered semi-fluent. For citizenship, some residents will need to have also completed tuition in the language also.  

The change to the language requirement from A2 to B1 will apply from autumn 2022 at the earliest, according to the UDI

Italy

For most types of Italian residency permit, applicants are not required to sit a language test.

But if you’re a non-EU citizen applying for a permesso di soggiorno per soggiornanti di lungo periodo (long-stay residency permit) based on being resident for five years or more, there is a requirement to prove at least A2 level competency in Italian.

The A2 level is still fairly basic: it’s the second-lowest on the the six-level scale of competence laid down in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), and equates to being a higher-level beginner able to understand and put together simple sentences.

If you’re applying for citizenship, Italy demands proof of having a slightly better command of the language: applicants must show they’ve passed an Italian language exam at the level of B1 or higher.

The B1 level is a lower intermediate level of proficiency, and equates to being able to communicate in most everyday situations. 

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Italy’s language test for citizenship

For those who simply need to pass the exam in order to get the required paperwork, and don’t need to prove their linguistic competency for any other reasons (such as study or employment), there is a simplified ‘B1 cittadinanza’ (B1 for citizenship) exam created specifically for this purpose. 

For residency and citizenship applications, certificates proving you’ve passed a language test are only valid if issued by a school (in Italy or abroad) which is accredited by one of four Italian language institutes recognised by the Interior Ministry.

Even though you don’t need a particularly high level of Italian to obtain either residency or citizenship, language skills will prove essential for foreign residents. Unlike in some parts of Europe, most Italians don’t speak English – at least outside of the more touristy areas.

Sweden

The Swedish government is currently carrying out an inquiry on a proposal that would require permanent residence applicants to prove basic Swedish proficiency. Right now, there are no language requirements for other short-term residence permits, including study permits and work permits. 

READ ALSO: TEST: Is your Swedish good enough for permanent residency?

Under the proposal, applicants would have to pass a test certifying that they can read, write, listen, and speak at an A1/A2 level on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) scale. In the Swedish government’s free language classes, known as Swedish for Immigrants (SFI), this corresponds to passing course C, the third of four levels. 

This proposal is still in its inquiry stage, which will end in May 2023. 

Austria

Austria has language requirements for most of its residence permits and German knowledge is expected to increase as people need to renew their cards.

There is no language requirement for the most common work-based permit, the Red-White-Red card, though. However, there is a point-based system to be able to apply for the permit and knowing German or English will give the candidates points – how many and for what level will depend on which group they belong to.

READ ALSO: How Austria is making it easier for non-EU workers to get residence permits

For example, “very highly qualified workers” will get ten points (they need 70) if they speak German or English at an A2 level. But “skilled workers at shortage occupations” can get 15 points if they can prove German knowledge at a B1 level (ten points for A2 and five for A1) and another ten for English at a B1 level.

The Red-White-Red Card is issued for 24 months and entitles the holder to fixed-term settlement and employment by the employer specified in your application.

READ ALSO: Working in Austria: Why foreigners find it hard to integrate in the workplace

After that, they may apply for the Red-White-Red Plus, which is also the permit for family members of Austrian citizens, Red-White-Red Card workers, and EU citizens.

In many cases, including for spouses of Austrian citizens, but not for family members of EU citizens, there is a language requirement of an A1 level German even before immigration. You can read more about the requirements and exceptions here. The requirement will go up to B1 (which is also the minimum level for naturalisation) as they seek a long-term settlement, with few exceptions.

Denmark

Denmark requires people who are granted residence based on family reunification to pass a language test. This only applies to family reunified spouses (and not, for example, children).

People granted residence in Denmark on the grounds of family reunification with spouses are normally required to pass two tests in Danish, meeting the A1 and then A2 standards. The A2 requirement does not apply to people who applied before July 2018.

The A1 level test must be passed within six months of being granted a residence permit in Denmark, and the A2 level test within nine months.

Passing the language tests reduces the so-called ‘bank guarantee’ (bankgarantien), a sum of money which must be provided by the spouse as security against the granting of their partner’s work permit. More detail on this can be found here.

READ ALSO: How the dizzying cost of family reunification keeps Danes and foreign partners apart

There are various ways for non-EU residents to get a Danish work permit based on their profession. A list of different types of work sectors and requirements needed can be found on the website nyidanmark.dk.

These include the Fast-Track Scheme, Pay Limit Scheme and Positive Lists among a series of other routes. Unlike with family reunification, profession-based residence and work permits do not have a language requirement.

READ ALSO: What’s the difference between temporary and permanent residency in Denmark?

Elsewhere in Europe

In the Netherlands, the requirements will depend on many factors, including your nationality.

Before getting a residence permit, many people must go through a process to receive a provisional residence permit, the MVV. During this process, there is a Dutch language requirement.

However, citizens of EU and EEA countries, Australia, Canada, the UK, US, Switzerland and other countries do not need the MVV and, therefore, will not need to prove Dutch skills. Furthermore, people who are family members of an EU or EEA citizen (but not Dutch citizens) also don’t need the provisional residence permit and can skip the language requirements in most cases.

Depending on your purpose of stay, you might not need an MVV or proof of Dutch knowledge. If you need to fulfil language requirements, the level is A2, but the Dutch government intends to increase it to B2.

You can find more information here.

In Portugal, there are no language requirements for long-term residence visas regardless of the applicant’s nationality or purpose of stay.

After five years of legal residency, though, it’s possible to apply for a permanent residence permit, which has an A2 Portuguese level requirement.

In the United Kingdom, most people who are applying for citizenship or settling in the UK (the “indefinite leave to remain”) will need to prove their knowledge of the English language if they are 18 or over.

The requirement is at least a B1 level of English which can be confirmed by submitting a qualification or having a degree taught or researched in English.

You do not need to prove your knowledge of English in certain circumstances.

In Belgium, things can get a little tricky. Anyone who wants to stay in the country for more than 90 days will have their “efforts to integrate into Belgian society controlled”, according to the Foreign Office.

There are several exemptions to this, though, including minors or refugees. You can check all exemptions here.

Those who are not exempt will be required to prove “integration efforts” whenever applying for the renewal of their permits and for a limited period after, depending on the type of permit. The checks also apply to those with permanent residence.

The assessment of the “integration efforts” takes into account several criteria, including if the person is employed, if they attended an integration course, went to school, and if they have knowledge of the local language.

If the efforts are considered non-existent or insufficient, the Foreign Office may “refuse to renew the residence permit or terminate the stay” – though they add that they will consider the nature and strength of family ties in Belgium.

Don’t forget to check the official websites and consult with the embassies and local offices to get information on your specific case.

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