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‘You feel like you’re in a no man’s land’: Brits in Sweden still have unanswered Brexit questions

In a brief interview with The Local, the British ambassador to Sweden advised Brits to prepare any paperwork as soon as possible ahead of a possible no-deal Brexit, while many Brits we spoke to had unanswered questions following a townhall meeting hosted by the embassy.

'You feel like you're in a no man's land': Brits in Sweden still have unanswered Brexit questions
The panel made up of Ambassador Judith Gough and representatives from the Justice Ministry, Tax Agency, Prime Minister's Office, Migration Agency, Social Security Agency, and Brits in Sweden. Photo: C
Speaking to The Local after the event, British ambassador to Sweden Judith Gough emphasized that the approach of a possible no-deal Brexit was “an unprecedented set of circumstances” but praised Swedish government agencies for their work in preparing for the possibility.

Proposals for residence permits for Brits following a no-deal Brexit were announced last week, despite previous statements from Swedish ministers which suggested there would be no further measures. In August, Sweden's EU Minister told The Local “we have done what we need to do for those who are in Sweden now”, and referred to the one-year grace period offered by the Swedish government.
 
 
On the subject of the permits, Gough said “this has been an ongoing process for quite some time, obviously we work very closely together. It's been a very productive relationship and I see no reason why that wouldn't continue.”
 
While the ambassador was unable to address specifics of individual situations, saying these questions should be directed to the relevant Swedish authorities, she stressed two bits of advice for all affected Brits.
“The advice I'd give to British citizens is make any applications that you need to make as early as possible, so that you have clarity as soon as possible and secondly, give as much information as you possibly can,” she said. “Provide as much information as you possibly can to demonstrate that you have been in Sweden for a certain period of time [when applying for a residence permit].”
 
Gough added that many questions “can be easily answered if people follow the instructions” found on the UK government website as well as those of Swedish government agencies.
 

Asked if any of the questions raised in the townhall event came as a surprise, she noted “my job is never to be surprised”.
 
“It's very difficult to talk in terms of priorities because we understand we're dealing with people's personal lives, and everything is a personal priority for each individual,” she said. “We will take away the questions that weren't able to be answered and we will talk with our Swedish colleagues as to how we address them and give clarity where perhaps we weren't able to.”
 
Several British citizens The Local spoke to after the event still had questions about their personal situations.
 
Deborah Sanders said she had attended all the townhall events put on by the embassy and that she felt grateful to the authorities for their involvement in the events. “I'm feeling better about the whole thing because I've managed to get Swedish citizenship. But here we are 20-something days away from the end, and we're still not quite sure what will happen,” she said, referring to the October 31st Brexit deadline.

Sanders' main concerns related to whether her Swedish-British family would be able to return to the UK in the future if necessary, and what would happen to her British pension.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions, still, around what this means for individuals long-term,” she explained. “I asked a question about pensions, and my worries are: Will it be uprated? Will it be the pension as I've earned it? Should I still be paying into my British pension scheme as well?”

“Concrete answers are somewhat lacking. You need to plan for your future. I'm an only child and both my parents are remarried. If I ever needed to go back to the UK to take care of them, my [Swedish] husband would be classed as a third-country national [from the end of March 2022] and it could take a couple of years to get back into the country. I might not have that time, so do I split my family for a few years? Will there be extra requirements?” she wondered.


Graeme Fletcher (left) and Steven Groves. Photo: Catherine Edwards

Friends Steven Groves and Graeme Fletcher, like Sanders, have lived in Sweden long-term and built lives and families here, but they also had concerns. 

Fletcher said he felt the meeting was well-organized, saying: “Last time there were a lot more feelings involved, this time there were a lot of facts. The Swedish authorities seem to have a plan, even if they can't say straight away what will happen, and they seem to have made it as easy as possible for everybody.”

But Groves noted: “At the end of the day we don't know what's going to happen until we get a hard Brexit or an easy Brexit. One of the things I noticed today was that they couldn't answer all the questions fully, talking about driving licences and things like that – that's normal stuff. I've been here 30 years, I'm married, and have permanent residency, so my question is what happens then, when your foundations are in Sweden.”

The pair agreed that after decades in Sweden, returning to the UK was out of the question. Both had decided to apply for Swedish citizenship after the Brexit referendum, never having considered taking the step previously.

“I've been here 24 years now, and I'm not married so that was a major concern – what happens in the future if you lose your job for example,” explained Groves.

“Now I've applied for citizenship which I think is really important. It never really crosses your mind beforehand. But when they had the Brexit vote in England, we weren't allowed to vote because we'd lived abroad for more than eight years. At the same time there were the general elections in Sweden, which we weren't allowed to vote in because we're not Swedish citizens. That's when I realized, I can't decide the future of my children. You really do feel like you're in no man's land.”

For those who have lived in Sweden long enough to be eligible for citizenship, the key questions around Brexit include the impact on cross-cultural families and pensions. But those without citizenship will need to apply for residence permits, meaning further questions not only about the eligibility criteria for those permits and how to prove these are fulfilled, but also about the impact of Brexit on job-hunting, travel, third-country partners, and more.

Molly and Erin, both originally from London and resident in Sweden for under five years, said they were still confused about how the residency period would be calculated.

“It still feels very confusing. Our main question is, what does 'residency' actually mean?” Molly said after the event. “Is it the date you arrive or the date you get a personnummer?”

Erin agreed, adding: “It's becoming real for us now, we've been living in hope for so long that [a no-deal Brexit] might not even happen.”

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TRAVEL NEWS

Passports: What are the post-Brexit rules for dual-nationals travelling in Europe?

People who have more than one citizenship often hold multiple passports, so what does this mean for crossing borders? Here's what you should know.

Passports: What are the post-Brexit rules for dual-nationals travelling in Europe?

For many readers of The Local, gaining citizenship of the country where they live helps them to feel more settled – but there are also travel benefits, including avoiding the long ‘non EU’ queue when coming back into the Schengen zone.

But this week the problems associated with travelling while holding dual citizenship came to light, leaving many people wondering what they should know when they are entering different countries.

Put simply – which passport should you use? And do you have to carry both with you?

Financial Times journalist Chris Giles tweeted that the UK Border Force “detained” his dual-national daughter while she was travelling from France into the UK with her German passport – and not her British one. 

He went on to say that UK border guards released his daughter. According to Giles, the border staff said she should have had both passports with her “and asked why she was travelling on her German one”.

The rules on dual-nationality have not changed, but now that the UK is not in the EU, there are strict rules on non-Brits who enter the country (and vice-versa) which has made it trickier for travel.

For instance, UK nationals receive a stamp in their passport when entering Schengen member states because they are only allowed to stay up to 90 days within an 180 period (unless they have a visa or residency card).

READ ALSO: Brexit: EU asks border police not to stamp passports of British residents 

People coming from the EU to the UK can generally visit as a tourist for up to six months without a visa – but are not allowed to carry out any work while there.

So which passport should you show?

The first thing to be aware of is there are no specific rules on travelling with more than one passport. 

Travellers can choose to use whichever passport they prefer when going to a country. 

But one thing to note is that it’s worth using the passport that is best suited to your destination when travelling there. Each country has its own set of immigration and visa rules that you’ll need to research closely.

It could be that one passport is better suited for your trip – and you may be able to avoid visa requirements.  

READ ALSO: How powerful is the German passport?

In the case of the UK, many people are still getting to grips with the different rules that apply because it’s not in the EU anymore.

A question submitted to the Secretary of State for the Home Department in September 2021 provided some insight into this issue. 

The question from Labour’s Paul Blomfield asked what steps the UK government “is taking to enable dual UK and EU citizens to travel to the UK on an EU member state passport without having to further prove their UK citizenship?”

The Conservatives Kevin Foster said: “Border Force Officers examine all arriving passengers to establish whether they are British citizens, whether they require leave to enter or if they are exempt from immigration control.

“Where the passenger claims to be British, but does not hold any evidence of British citizenship, the officer will conduct all relevant checks to satisfy themselves the passenger is British.

Border control at Hamburg airport.

Border control at Hamburg airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

“When dual nationals who are eligible to use e-gates travel to the UK, they will enter via the e-gates without being examined by an immigration officer.

“We recommend all dual nationals, including EU citizens, travel on their British passport or with evidence or their British citizenship to minimise any potential delay at the border or when commencing their journey.”

The Local contacted the UK Home Office to ask if there was any official advice. 

A spokesman said: “An individual can present whichever passport they desire to enter the UK, however they will be subject to the entry requirements associated with the nationality of the passport they present.”

They said anyone who is looking for more information should check out guidance on entering the UK and on dual nationality.

In short, if you present a German passport on entry to the UK you will be treated the same as any other German citizen – which can include being quizzed about your reasons for visiting the UK – as border guards have no way of knowing that you are a dual-national. 

Do I have to carry both passports?

There’s no rule requiring you to have both passports, but you won’t get the benefits of a British passport (entry into the UK without questions) if you don’t show it.

Likewise if you are a French-British dual national and you enter France on your UK passport, you will need to use the non-EU queue and may have your passport stamped.

Should I think about anything else?

An important thing to remember is that if you apply for a visa and register your passport details, the same passport has to be used to enter the country. 

It could also make sense to travel with both passports, just in case. 

However, note that some countries – like the US – require that US nationals use a US passport to enter and leave the States even if they are dual nationals. 

In general, it’s best to use the same passport you entered a country with to depart.

The rules and systems are different depending on the country. But many countries require people to show their passport when leaving – and they will either stamp or scan the passport – this is how authorities know that a foreign visitor hasn’t overstayed their time in the country. 

So if your passport is checked as you leave the UK, you should show the one you arrived with, just to ensure there is a record of you arriving and leaving.

However as you enter France/Germany/other EU destination, you can show your EU passport in order to maximise the travel benefits of freedom of movement.

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