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Reader voices: How Brits in Sweden are (and aren't) preparing for Brexit

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Reader voices: How Brits in Sweden are (and aren't) preparing for Brexit
Campaigners wave a mix of British and EU flags in London. Photo: AP Photo/Matt Dunham/TT
12:40 CET+01:00
For the 20,000 Brits currently living in Sweden, the impact of Brexit remains uncertain in the absence of an agreed deal between the UK and EU. The Local asked our British readers to let us know if and how the referendum result has affected them so far, from worries over freelance contracts to citizenship applications.

The Local heard from people who had moved to Sweden between one and over 50 years ago, who were aged between 21 and 84. Their professions ranged from video production to engineering with Volvo, with several tech sector employees and academics responding, as well as many other professionals, retirees and students.

They have moved to all parts of Sweden, from Umeå to Skåne and from big cities to small towns. While most said Brexit had not yet had a direct impact on their lives, for many it had changed how they were planning for the future and for some the UK's exit from the EU raised practical concerns.

Strengthening ties

For some of the recent arrivals, Brexit was part of the reason for the relocation, combined with a family connection or job offer in Sweden, and/or an attraction to the Swedish lifestyle. For others, it may not have factored into the decision to move, but had strengthened their desire to stay in Sweden long-term.

"The decision to move here was not based solely on the Brexit vote... but it was the nail in the coffin," said systems engineer Stephen Harris.

"[Brexit] makes me less keen to ever move back to the UK," commented university researcher Louise Howes in Lund.

And among those who had moved to Sweden with the idea of staying temporarily, the UK's decision to leave the EU has made some consider strengthening their ties to Sweden, either by applying for permanent residency, citizenship, or simply staying for longer than originally planned

"I wouldn't have considered applying for citizenship if Brexit had not occurred," said John Jennings, who relocated in 2014. Other respondents went even further and said they were considering renouncing their dual British citizenship altogether in the future.

One respondent, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "I would like to live in another EU country after Sweden and this has affected my decision to stay and seek citizenship [in Sweden]". Having moved in 2014 for work, they are not yet eligible, so they plan to remain in Sweden until they can gain citizenship, before moving elsewhere in the European bloc in the future.

Citizenship

Almost half of the 63 Brits who spoke to The Local said they had applied for either citizenship or permanent residency in Sweden, although Brexit was not a factor in all such cases, with many having become Swedish long before the 2016 referendum.

Most described the application process – which in Sweden, unlike most other countries, does not include a language or citizenship test – as "easy" and "fast", taking only a few months in many cases, and even less when it came to some long-term residents.

"I was fast tracked because I've lived here for nearly 30 years. The entire process took about nine days including postage. I have to add that Sweden has been good to me and it was a privilege to become a Swedish citizen," said 60-year-old Eddie Storey in Stockholm, who had no plans to renew his UK passport when it expires.

But for those who had applied since the UK's referendum result, decisions were taking a lot longer. "Easy but frustratingly slow" was how 50-year-old Stuart Mayes described the process. He said it was over two years after he made his application that he was asked to supply the supporting material.

As The Local has reported previously, a backlog at the Migration Agency has slowed down processing times for citizenship applications for residents of all countries. Other Brits in Sweden told The Local they had been waiting over two years for a response to their own applications, with a lack of communication from the Swedish Migration Agency (Migrationsverket) a common complaint.

Paul Bland in Uddevalla, who had been waiting over 22 months for his decision, said: "No useful information available from Migrationsverket when emailed or on the rare occasion when someone answers the phone."

READ ALSO: How to get Swedish citizenship

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Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel (far left) participate in a National Day ceremony welcoming Sweden's new citizens. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/SCANPIX/TT

Brexit limbo

For those who have lived in Sweden less than five years (or three years with a Swedish partner), citizenship is not yet an option.

In some cases, this has led to feelings of helplessness and uncertainty over what they can do beyond some practical measures such as applying for Swedish driving licences.

Louise Howes, a university researcher in Lund, moved in 2015 for her job, and her partner also works in Sweden. She said she was "terrified" about the possible consequences of Brexit, with her job contract due to end in January.

Another university employee, Fiona Reid in Uppsala, commented: "I have no idea how to prepare! If there is a deal, I guess I will be fine for the next couple of years. If there is no deal... I have absolutely no idea what will happen to me!"

"What am I supposed to do? Nobody knows," wrote Ian Hazelton, after three years in Stockholm.

Many respondents said they were making an effort to keep updated with developments in the negotiations and to have their say as much as possible. This included attending the British Embassy's 'town hall meetings' in Stockholm and parliamentary lobbies back in the UK, following the news closely, and contacting British MPs.

READ ALSO: Brexit passport rush continues, but Brits face long waits for Swedish citizenship

'Let down' by leaders

Frustration at the handling of the Brexit negotiations was mentioned frequently, including from those supportive of the decision to leave the EU.

Several long-term residents were angry about not having been able to vote in the referendum, from which British nationals who had lived abroad for over 15 years were excluded. Those who had lived abroad for a shorter time had in several cases taken the step of ensuring they were on the British electoral register so they could have their say in the event of any future election or referendum.

One Sollefteå resident, Sandy, who has applied for Swedish citizenship after 14 years in the country said the decision to leave the EU was "a good one, but badly managed", a sentiment shared by Andy Hancock, who said "the current proposed agreement appears to be precisely the opposite of how it could have been successful".

And Fergus Bisset, 33, was critical about the lack of assurances or guarantees from the Swedish government. He has applied for citizenship after living in Sweden for six years, where he works in the central Dalarna region.

"I can just about live with the idea of UK politicians neglecting my interests, but when ostensibly it seems like Swedish politicians aren't interested either, that's when you start to question your entire existence," he wrote. "I think [Swedish EU Affairs Minister] Ann Linde has made more comment on Theresa May's dancing to Abba at the Conservative Party conference this year than she has offered solidarity to the British people who have chosen to live, work and pay tax in her country."

READ ALSO: How should Brits in Sweden prepare for Brexit?How should Brits in Sweden prepare for Brexit?

Sweden's Minister for EU Affairs and Trade Ann Linde, pictured earlier this year. Photo: Wiktor Nummelin / TT

Work and study

While the biggest problem facing many Brits is the sheer uncertainty of how Brexit may affect their lives in the EU, if at all, for others there are concrete problems and, as yet, no clear answers.

Geoffrey Parker moved to Sweden in 1998 and commutes from his home in Malmö to Copenhagen where he works every day. He has applied for Swedish citizenship, which he described as an "easy" process, although he is still waiting for a response after two years, and is concerned about how Brexit would affect his status as a cross-border commuter if he doesn't receive a positive decision before March next year.

"I talked with my HR department in Copenhagen to find out how it could affect me as a British citizen living in Sweden but working in Denmark," he said, adding: "They haven't had much luck finding out anything."

The Brexit vote had changed work plans for other Brits in Sweden too, such as opting to carry out contract work for EU-based businesses instead of those in the UK. Stuart Mayes said he was looking for new, EU-based suppliers for his business and no longer looking for opportunities in the UK.

"The scale of my business makes it unrealistic to deal with a non-EU country (Skatteverket's [the Swedish Tax Agency] rules for trading goods and services with non-EU countries requires additional accounting and more regular tax declarations)," commented Mayes.

Another Brit, who asked to be referred to only as Jane, said: "I work for a German company and occasionally travel to Germany. Since the company is not yet registered in Sweden I don’t know if I can keep my job after Brexit, which might impact my ability to stay in Sweden." She added that she was eligible for citizenship and had applied, but had spent almost two years so far waiting for a response.

The loss of EU membership could also affect British students, who are currently able to study for free in Sweden, without paying international tuition fees. Elliot Seymour, 21, moved to Stockholm to take advantage of the opportunity to study there in 2017.

He said that he no longer plans to apply for the university exchange programme as he may not be eligible after Brexit, and is also looking for "back-up plans in the UK" in the event that is unable to continue studying here if fees are introduced. He has been told at a British Embassy event that any changes are unlikely to affect him as he has already begun the course, but the ambassador did not yet know for certain.

Families with uncertain future

The majority of respondents said Brexit had not yet affected their future plans in any way, often because it remains uncertain what the final deal between the UK and EU will look like, and when it will come into force. Some already felt less inclined to return to the UK as a result of the vote, while in many cases a future return may not even be possible due to practical issues that would face Swedish partners or children. Others were concerned about how easy it would be for their Swedish family to travel to the UK and visit relatives there.

"Brexit means that living in the UK will possibly not be an option in the future as my husband is Swedish," said 34-year-old Amy Boswood, who is training to be a teacher after moving to Sweden for love in 2009, and applied for and gained Swedish citizenship as soon as the Brexit referendum was first announced. "I'm not sure if my wage as a teacher would be high enough to support my family [and] the non-British person's wage isn't taken into account in spouse applications."

This was a concern shared by many others who had Swedish partners and noted it might be harder to ever move to the UK if their spouse's status changed to that of a third country national.

Wayne Brailsford, who has lived in Gothenburg since 2001, said he had applied for Swedish citizenship and secured British passports for his British-Swedish children "in anticipation of complications", but did not anticipate any other disruption as he plans to stay in Sweden long-term.

Terence Clark, aged 67, said his wife, who had spent 30 years living and working in the UK, was not eligible for settled status there under current rules, making a potential return for the couple to his home country challenging. "I will never go back to live in the UK – the country of my birth and the place I lived and worked for over 50 years of my life. What a sad thing to be faced with – to be effectively exiled by a decision those most affected by were denied a say in," he wrote.

Or as Fergus Bisset put it: "The UK's loss will, hopefully, be Sweden's gain."

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