Brits in Sweden call for government clarification over Brexit

A British interest group in Sweden is calling on the government for clarity over the rules which will apply to British citizens in the event of a no-deal Brexit, saying that the three years since the referendum result have led to worry for many Brits.

Brits in Sweden call for government clarification over Brexit
Sweden's EU Minister Hans Dahlgren. Photo: Wiktor Nummelin/TT

The group called for Sweden to make “detailed decisions on which rules will apply for British citizens' rights” as soon as possible, in order to make it clear to British citizens how they would be affected. 

It also requested that all information about Brexit to be kept up-to-date and clearly accessible on the Migration Agency's website.

“Despite the measures that Sweden has taken thus far, there is a clear need for more, and better, information around how the new rules will be applied,” states the document, which was put together by two members of the Facebook group Brits in Sweden, David Milstead and Anne Cahling.

“Without a guarantee to stay and continue their lives, it is hard to plan for the future for themselves and their families,” it continues, stating that many Brits had reported feeling worried over the lack of clarity from the Swedish government, and that in some cases they had reported that their health had been negatively affected.

British citizen Milstead said that more than 100 people had filled in and left comments to a questionnaire on the Facebook group, of which 80 percent said they were very worried about Brexit.

“People have a huge range of questions which at present aren't answered. They also have a lot of anxiety and some report it's affecting their mental health. I was surprised that some even used the word suicide,” Milstead told The Local via email.

UPDATED: Essential no-deal Brexit checklist for Brits in Sweden

He applied for Swedish citizenship in 2017 and received a positive response about a week before the original Brexit deadline of March 2019. He said he had decided to write the document and send it to ministers and other decision-makers in order to assist others affected by the uncertainty.

“The Swedish attitude has largely been a wait-and-see approach. I find this disrespectful to a community who have been waiting so long that it is affecting people's health. Every day filled with uncertainty and worry is another day lost which they won't get back,” he commented.

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.

In the event of a no-deal exit, the Swedish government has passed legislation for a one-year 'grace period' during which Brits would retain their rights to live, work, study and access healthcare in Sweden, but after that, they would need residency permits. 

It is 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. The British Embassy has said the Migration Agency will “consider each application on a case by case basis, and make a judgment according to the circumstances of that case”, but there are many scenarios for which the likely outcome is unclear.

READ MORE: British Embassy issues Brexit update for 'uncertain time'

There are currently around 20,000 British citizens without Swedish citizenship living in Sweden.

The Brits in Sweden document points to the diversity of the British citizens who live in Sweden, a group which includes professionals working in many industries, researchers, students, entrepreneurs, pensioners, and others. It cites some of the key concerns as access to medical care, recognition of professional qualifications, financial support for students, social benefits such as sick pay, the ability to bring family members over to Sweden. 

Some of the examples raised in the group include pensioners who are uncertain if they will meet the requirements to stay, students with worries about their access to free tuition, and employees with concerns that their jobs will make them ineligible for work permits due to not meeting the conditions.

The document from Brits in Sweden notes that the UK introduced a Settled Status and pre-settled status to protect the rights of EU citizens who moved to the UK before December 2020, or the date the UK leaves the EU without a deal. This also allows people in this group to spend up to two years (for those with pre-settled status) or five years (for those with settled status) outside the UK without losing their status.

“Unlike the Swedes in the UK, the Brits in Sweden have no guarantees that they can continue living their lives in their new home country if there is a no-deal Brexit,” the document (written in Swedish, and translated here by The Local) notes.

“There is a significant risk that many Brits won't fulfil the new requirements for residence and work permits, and will in such cases have to leave Sweden. It is not clear, for example, that work permits will be approved for jobs which lack a collective bargaining agreement,” notes the document.

READ ALSO: How to get Swedish citizenship or stay permanently in Sweden

“The message from politicians is also far from satisfactory. Hans Dahlgren, Sweden's EU Minister, said in March 2019 that Sweden at the time could not guarantee Brits' future [in Sweden] in the event of a no-deal Brexit,” it continued, citing The Local's interview with the minister. 

When The Local spoke to Sweden's EU Minister on Friday, he said “it is serious that the risk of a hard Brexit has increased” but did not have any more information on how Sweden planned to treat British citizens living in Sweden once the one-year grace period was over.

“We have done what we need to do for those who are in Sweden now. What will happen to those who come here after the exit, I cannot comment on,” he said.

Another request from the organizers was that Swedish authorities make an effort to inform Sweden's British residents when the new rules on residence and work permits are decided. This measure, they said, “will counter the risk that the most vulnerable (for example the elderly and/or sick, or those who cannot search for information on the internet) don't apply in time and, in the worst-case scenario, lose their right to stay in Sweden”.

The group also asked that the Migration Agency continue to prioritize citizenship applications from British citizens, which the agency said it was doing earlier this year. 

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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.