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British Embassy issues Brexit update for ‘uncertain time’

The British Embassy in Stockholm has issued an update on Brexit for the affected citizens, which clarified some of the procedures that would be necessary in the event of a no-deal Brexit but highlighted the uncertainty for many Brits living in Sweden.

British Embassy issues Brexit update for 'uncertain time'
Over the summer, legislative changes were approved aimed at assisting Brits living in Sweden. Photo: Matt Dunham/AP/TT

In a video shared by the embassy's Facebook page on Monday, Acting Ambassador Peter Ruskin acknowledged that it was an “uncertain time” for British citizens living in the EU, and said that the government would prefer to leave the EU with a deal.

“If it's not possible to reach a deal we will have to leave with no deal – and are making all necessary preparations to do so,” he said.

While the update did not include any new decisions or policies, it provided information on what British citizens in Sweden would need to do in the event of both a deal and a no-deal scenario.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pictured leaving 10 Downing Street in London. Photo: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

No-deal grace period 

If the UK leaves without a deal, Sweden has committed to a one-year grace period for British citizens.

This means that for one year from the date the UK leaves the EU (October 31st, 2019), Brits would retain the same rights to live, work, access healthcare, and study in Sweden without a residency or work permit. 

The exemption will apply automatically, so Brits and their family members do not need to make special applications in order to continue living and working as normal immediately after any no-deal Brexit.

READ ALSO: Essential no-deal Brexit checklist for Brits in Sweden

Residency permits

The embassy said that “the key thing” was that Brits would need to apply for residency permits during this one-year period.

“This would enable you to keep your rights after the grace period has ended. In this scenario, it would be your responsibility to apply for residency, if you want to continue to live in Sweden with the rights that you have today,” stated Ruskin. Those who have already applied for Swedish citizenship but not yet received a decision by the date of any no-deal Brexit have been advised they should apply separately for residence.

However, it remains unclear whether current regulations around work and residence permits would apply (including requirements for certain income thresholds and workplace insurance), or whether the government would introduce new legislation to deal with the affected Brits. Both the Migration Agency and Sweden's largest major business federation have warned that applying existing legislation to Brits would be problematic.

It's also unclear what rules would apply to self-supporting Brits, including pensioners as well as those who do not have a job or Swedish partner during the one-year grace period.

When The Local spoke to Sweden's EU Minister Hans Dahlgren in March, he said he was unable to guarantee what the status of Brits in Sweden would be one year after a no-deal Brexit, including for 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 '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

The minister added: “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. A lot of things can be done in one year and if there are remaining problems I'm sure they can be worked out.”

As for those who have not yet been in Sweden long enough to apply for permanent residence or citizenship (between three and five years, depending on your situation and subject to certain criteria), the Swedish parliament in July approved legislative changes which mean Brits and their family members can count their time in Sweden under EU freedom of movement towards a future residence permit application. In other words, the clock would not restart once they became a third-country citizen on October 31st, 2019. 

READ ALSO: Sweden fast-tracks citizenship applications from Brits as Brexit negotiations continue

Passport stamps

Another thing to be aware of is that during the one-year grace period, British citizens in Sweden and their families have been advised to request a special passport stamp to prove their status.

This will be provided free by the Swedish Migration Agency if and when it becomes clear that the UK will leave the EU without a deal. If this happens, both the Migration Agency and the British Embassy will update their information and provide details of exactly how to apply.

The Migration Agency has previously said it hopes to process applications for stamps within one week.

READ ALSO: How the Swedish Migration Agency is preparing for a no-deal Brexit

How the Swedish Migration Agency is preparing for a no-deal Brexit
A Migration Agency office in Småland, southern Sweden. Photo: Adam Wrafter/SvD/TT

If the UK leaves with a deal

The measures outlined above apply only if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. While Ruskin stressed that leaving with a deal was the government's preferred outcome, new Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he is prepared to leave without a deal.

If the UK leaves the EU with a deal, EU member states and the UK have agreed on an 'implementation period', which is planned to last until December 31st, 2020. During this time, British citizens would retain their current rights as EU citizens.

This means that not only would those already living in Sweden keep their right to live, work, access healthcare, and study in Sweden, but that they could also travel freely throughout the EU (without the need for a passport stamp), and also that British citizens could move to Sweden, or any other EU country, under the EU's freedom of movement until the end of 2020.

During that period, negotiations between the UK and EU would be carried out which would determine the future relationship between the countries.

READ ALSO: Confused about Brexit? Here are 8 essential websites for Brits in Sweden

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EUROPEAN UNION

How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

Non-EU citizens living in the European Union are eligible for a special residence status that allows them to move to another country in the bloc. Getting the permit is not simple but may get easier, explains Claudia Delpero.

How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

The European Commission proposed this week to simplify residence rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the European Union.

The intention is to ease procedures in three areas: acquiring EU long-term residence status, moving to other EU countries and improving the rights of family members. 

But the new measures will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council, which is made of national ministers. Will EU governments support them?

What is EU long-term residence?

Non-EU citizens who live in EU countries on a long-term basis are eligible for long-term residence status, nationally and at the EU level. 

This EU status can be acquired if the person has lived ‘legally’ in an EU country for at least five years, has not been away for more than 6 consecutive months and 10 months over the entire period, and can prove to have “stable and regular economic resources” and health insurance. Applicants can also be required to meet “integration conditions”, such as passing a test on the national language or culture knowledge. 

The EU long-term residence permit is valid for at least five years and is automatically renewable. But the status can be lost if the holder leaves the EU for more than one year (the EU Court of Justice recently clarified that being physically in the EU for a few days in a 12-month period is enough to maintain the status).

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: How many non-EU citizens live in European Union countries?

Long-term residence status grants equal treatment to EU nationals in areas such as employment and self-employment or education. In addition, EU long-term residence grants the possibility to move to other EU countries under certain conditions. 

What does the European Commission want to change?

The European Commission has proposed to make it easier to acquire EU long-term residence status and to strengthen the rights associated with it. 

Under new measures, non-EU citizens should be able to cumulate residence periods in different EU countries to reach the 5-year requirement, instead of resetting the clock at each move. 

This, however, will not apply to individuals who used a ‘residence by investment’ scheme to gain rights in the EU, as the Commission wants to “limit the attractiveness” of these routes and not all EU states offer such schemes. 

All periods of legal residence should be fully counted towards the 5 years, including those spent as students, beneficiaries of temporary protection or on temporary grounds. Stays under a short-term visa do not count.

Children who are born or adopted in the EU country having issued the EU long-term residence permit to their parents should acquire EU long-term resident status in that country automatically, without residence requirement, the Commission added.

READ ALSO: Why it may get easier for non-EU citizens to move to another European Union country

EU countries should also avoid imposing a minimum income level for the resources condition but consider the applicant’s individual circumstances, the Commission suggests.

Integration tests should not be too burdensome or expensive, nor should they be requested for long-term residents’ family reunifications. 

The Commission also proposed to extend from 12 to 24 months the possibility to leave the EU without losing status, with facilitated procedures (no integration test) for the re-acquisition of status after longer absences.

A person who has already acquired EU long-term residence status in one EU country should only need three years to acquire the same status in another EU member state. But the second country could decide whether to wait the completion of the five years before granting social benefits. 

The proposal also clarifies that EU long-term residents should have the same right as EU nationals with regard to the acquisition of private housing and the export of pensions, when moving to a third country. 

Why make these changes?

Although EU long-term residence exists since 2006, few people have benefited. “The long-term residents directive is under-used by the member states and does not provide for an effective right to mobility within the EU,” the Commission says. 

Around 3.1 million third-country nationals held long-term residence permits for the EU in 2017, compared to 7.1 million holding a national one. “we would like to make the EU long-term residence permit more attractive,” said European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

The problems are the conditions to acquire the status, too difficult to meet, the barriers faced when moving in the EU, the lack of consistency in the rights of long-term residents and their family members and the lack of information about the scheme.

Most EU member states continue to issue “almost exclusively” national permits unless the applicant explicitly asks for the EU one, an evaluation of the directive has shown.

READ ALSO: Pensions in the EU: What you need to know if you’re moving country

This proposal is part of a package to “improve the EU’s overall attractiveness to foreign talent”, address skill shortages and facilitate integration in the EU labour market of people fleeing Ukraine. 

On 1 January 2021, 23.7 million non-EU nationals were residing in the EU, representing 5.3% of the total population. Between 2.25 to 3 million non-EU citizens move to the EU every year. More than 5 million people have left Ukraine for neighbouring states since the beginning of the war in February. 

Will these measures also apply to British citizens?

These measures also apply to British citizens, whether they moved to an EU country before or after Brexit. 

The European Commission has recently clarified that Britons living in the EU under the Withdrawal Agreement can apply for a long-term residence too.

As Britons covered by the Withdrawal Agreement have their residence rights secured only in the country where they lived before Brexit, the British in Europe coalition recommended those who need mobility rights to seek EU long-term residence status. 

These provisions do not apply in Denmark and Ireland, which opted out of the directive.

What happens next?

The Commission proposals will have to be discussed and agreed upon by the European Parliament and Council. This is made of national ministers, who decide by qualified majority. During the process, the proposals can be amended or even scrapped. 

In 2021, the European Parliament voted through a resolution saying that third-country nationals who are long-term residents in the EU should have the right to reside permanently in other EU countries, like EU citizens. The Parliament also called for the reduction of the residency requirement to acquire EU long-term residence from five to three years.

READ ALSO: COMPARE: Which EU countries grant citizenship to the most people?

EU governments will be harder to convince. However, presenting the package, Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said proposals are likely to be supported because “they fit in a broader framework”, which represents the “construction” of the “EU migration policy”. 

National governments are also likely to agree because large and small employers face skill shortages, “especially in areas that are key to our competitiveness, like agri-food, digital, tourism, healthcare… we need people,” Schinas said.

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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