Sweden ‘cannot guarantee Brits’ future in no-deal Brexit’, EU minister tells The Local

EXCLUSIVE: In an interview with The Local, Sweden's EU minister said he was currently unable to guarantee what the status of Brits in Sweden would be one year after a no-deal Brexit, but said he was confident that "any problems will be sorted out".

Sweden 'cannot guarantee Brits' future in no-deal Brexit', EU minister tells The Local
EU Minister Hans Dahlgren, right, next to Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

“We don't really want [a no-deal Brexit] to happen. But if it does, and there is a serious risk that it might, then we feel that we are pretty well prepared for that situation,” Hans Dahlgren told The Local. “It doesn't mean that would be without problems.”

As The Local has previously reported, the Swedish government has decided to offer a one-year 'grace period' in the event of a no-deal Brexit, meaning that British citizens and their families already resident in Sweden could continue living and working in the country with most of the same rights for 12 months, without needing to apply for any additional permit.

Asked what rules or permits would apply to Brits after this one-year period in a no-deal Brexit scenario, Dahlgren said: “That's not clear yet, that is something that would have to be worked out after this period. There are a lot of countries outside the EU and they don't all have similar rules so that's something we'd have to negotiate.”

Hans Dahlgren was appointed EU minister in 2019. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

One group whose status would be uncertain is Brits working in companies that do not meet the conditions required to offer third-country work permits, for example smaller startup companies without a collective bargaining agreement (kollektivavtal). Sweden's largest business federation has warned that many Brits risk not having their permits approved if these are processed under existing legislation. 

“During the grace period there's going to be no change. But after that, I cannot answer that question because we don't know exactly what the rules will be at that time,” explained Dahlgren. “That's why we have this grace period, in order to have time to work these things out.”

MEMBERS' Q&A: Why is Sweden deporting skilled foreign workers?

The same applies to Brits who moved to Sweden using their EU freedom of movement but do not meet the usual requirements for a residence permit as a third country citizen, such as retirees or self-supporting people, the minister said.

“The question of who will be eligible for a work permit or a residence permit after the grace period is something I don't have any answers on today,” Dahlgren told The Local.

He added that the government would be prepared to take further decisions on the status of Brits during the one-year grace period in order to resolve any problems that arose during that year.

“I'm sure that during the negotiations that follow, we'll make every effort to facilitate for UK citizens now living in Sweden to have as easy an access to this country as possible. But the details of this have to be worked out during this grace period,” the minister said. “A lot of things can be done in one year and if there are remaining problems I'm sure they can be worked out.”

NO-DEAL BREXIT: New checklist for Brits in Sweden

Protesters outside the UK parliament. Photo: AP Photo/Matt Dunham

While any withdrawal agreement with the UK must be agreed between the country and the EU as a whole, EU member states have been able to decide individually what rights, if any, to offer Brits in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The most generous offer is from Malta, which has said all UK citizens resident on the date of a no-deal Brexit would receive 10-year status in the country, while sources at one rights group have said Italy is considering offering British residents the right to remain for life. Some countries have said Brits would need to meet income criteria in order to receive a residence permit.

READ MORE: No-deal Brexit: Which EU member state is being the most generous to Britons?

“We cannot negotiate with the Brits about a situation after a hard Brexit before it has happened because we cannot have double negotiations. We are now in a discussion about an organized withdrawal and that's our main focus. If that fails, then we will deal with the problems,” Dahlgren said.

Dahlgren, who himself spent a summer working in a sweet shop in Wales as well as a stint as a TV and radio correspondent in London in the 1960s and 70s, emphasized that Sweden and the UK have historically enjoyed close ties, and that he expected this to continue after Brexit.

“I'm sure we will have a good exchange of people: workers and students and in all walks of life, in the future. But the rules will be different because it will be a third country,” he said. “There is no sense of revenge here. We regret the outcome of the referendum but we will build on what we have.”

Thank you to those who submitted questions for this interview. If you have more questions about how Brexit will affect you, please email [email protected] and we'll try our best to get answers. And if you would like to see more interviews with key players about the issues that affect internationals in Sweden, please consider becoming a Member of The Local. Big thanks to existing Members – your support is invaluable.

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REVEALED: EU plans digital-only Schengen visa application process

Soon those non-EU nationals requested to have a Schengen visa to travel to European countries will no longer need to go to a consulate to submit the application and get a passport sticker, but will be able to apply online. 

REVEALED: EU plans digital-only Schengen visa application process

The European Commission has proposed to make the Schengen visa process completely digital.

The special visa, which allows to stay for tourism or business (but not work) in 26 European countries for up to 90 days in any 6-month period. 

Nationals of third countries such as South Africa, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka need the Schengen Visa to visit Europe, but they are not needed for other non-EU nationals such as Britons or Americans. You can see the full list of countries who need a Schengen visa here.

The proposal will have to be approved by the European Parliament and Council, but is in line with an agreed strategy that EU governments are keen to accelerate in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

Once agreed, the system will be used by the countries that are part of the border-free Schengen area. These include EU countries, excluding Ireland (which opted out), and Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Cyprus (which do not issue Schengen visas). Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, which are not EU members but have signed the Schengen Convention, will be part of the new system too.

Paper-based processes required applicants to travel to consulates to submit the application and collect their passports with the visa, a procedure that “proved problematic during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Commission said.

Some EU countries have already started to switch to digital systems but not all accept online payments for the visa fees. 

When the new system will be in place, the Commission says, applicants will be able to check on the EU Visa Application platform whether they need a visa. If so, they will create an account, fill out the application form, upload the documents and pay. 

The platform will automatically determine which Schengen country will be responsible for the application and applicants will be able to check their status and receive notifications. Travellers will then be able to access the visa online, and if needed extend it too.

“Half of those coming to the EU with a Schengen visa consider the visa application burdensome, one-third have to travel long distance to ask for a visa. It is high time that the EU provides a quick, safe and web-based EU visa application platform for the citizens of the 102 third countries that require short term visa to travel to the EU,” said Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

“With some member states already switching to digital, it is vital the Schengen area now moves forward as one,” said Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas.

However, first-time applicants, people with biometric data that are no longer valid or with a new travel document, will still have to go to a consulate to apply.

Family members of citizens from the EU and the European Economic Area, as well as people who need assistance, will also be able to continue to apply on paper. 

The EU Visa Application platform will be used from third countries whose nationals must be in possession of a visa to enter the EU and is different from the ETIAS (European Travel Information Authorisation), which is currently under development.

The ETIAS will be used by non-EU nationals who are exempt from visas but who will need to apply for a travel authorisation prior to their trip. This will cost 7 euros and will be free for people below the age of 18 and above 70. 

Based on the discussion between the European Parliament and Council, the Commission could start developing the platform in 2024 and make it operational in 2026. EU countries will then have five years to phase out national portals and switch to the common online system.