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‘Brexit is like a hangover that won’t go away’

For British residents in Sweden, it remains unclear what the impact of Brexit will be in the long-term, although citizens' rights are addressed in the Withdrawal Agreement. What is now clear is that the UK is on track to leave the EU on January 31st, so with just days to go, we asked Brits in Sweden how they felt about the approaching deadline and what questions they had about Brexit.

'Brexit is like a hangover that won't go away'
The process of confirming residence status in Sweden after Brexit is one of the things that is still unclear. File photo: Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

Under the Withdrawal Agreement, the rights of most Brits in Sweden (and those who move before the end of the transition period) will be unaffected by Brexit.

There are some exceptions, notably the fact that Brits will no longer enjoy freedom of movement, which might make it harder for those job-hunting within the EU, for example.

And there is still a lot that remains unclear, years after the UK originally voted to leave.

“The uncertainty has gone on for too long. Settled Status has been running for a year and this has allowed much needed scrutiny,” said David Milstead, referring to the UK's programme for EU citizens already resident in the UK. 

Meanwhile, there is little information about exactly how Brits in Sweden will go about securing their status.

In an update last week, the British Embassy in Stockholm said: “If you want to guarantee your rights beyond the end of the implementation period (31 December 2020), you and your family may need to apply for a residence status to confirm that you are already resident in Sweden.”

“The application will be short, simple and either free of charge, or cost no more than applying for a similar document, for example a national identity card or passport. You will have until at least 30 June 2021 to submit your application. We will share information on how to apply in our Living in guides when it is available,” the update stated.  

The lack of certainty and concrete guarantees, after years of limbo, has caused frustration for many Brits across Europe.

“Others have had to put their lives on hold. Do you apply for planning permission and build that extension? Do you buy that car? Do you move to a bigger house? Do you decorate? Do you get a family pet? Do you have a baby?” said Garry Jones, a British citizen living in Stockholm.

After more than 40 years in Sweden, Michael Eyre noted how tough it was to predict any long-term impact on a general or individual level: “We'll probably see both the upside and downside of Brexit as the years roll by.”

But he described his own mood in relation to Brexit as “disappointed, disillusioned, disgusted.” 

“The EU needs the UK as much as vice-versa. Sadly this is not to be,” he said.


British and European Union flags fly over Britain's parliament in London. Photo: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

Michael was one of many British residents who didn't have the right to vote in the Brexit referendum due to the time he had lived outside the country, and he regrets that Brits in the EU weren't given a vote.

A more recent arrival, Emma Grossmith, moved to Sweden in 2014. Although she hasn't changed her plans because of Brexit, she says that she would likely not have made the move if she had anticipated Brexit becoming a reality.

The freedom to move within the EU for work, and mutual recognition of qualifications were a “safety blanket” that for her made relocation possible. Now, she is one of many Brits prompted by the Brexit vote to apply for dual nationality.

“I've always been Irish, but it took Brexit to make me get my Irish passport. I never bothered with one before. As a Northern Irish person who grew up in the Troubles I know all too well where petty tribalism leads and I'll always be grateful for my dual nationality,” Grossmith said.

“As a British/Irish person who lived for a long time in Scotland before coming to Sweden, I'm very angry that half the UK is being dragged out of the European Union against its will,” she added.

Half-Swedish Erik Sandberg, who grew up spending summer holidays in Stockholm before making the full-time move to Scandinavia in 2017, is in a similar position. He hasn't yet applied for Swedish citizenship, but plans to do so soon, saying: “I feel closer to Europeans than I do to Brits, which is weird given technically I am a Brit.”

“I'm feeling fairly indifferent to the fact Brexit is happening this week. It's been such a long and emotionally draining process for both sides of the argument that it feels like a bit of an anti-climax,” he commented.

For others, January 31st will be a symbolic moment, and dozens of members of the Brits in Sweden Facebook group based in Stockholm have signed up to a meetup at the capital's British pub on the evening itself.

For Michael Heron, the idea of watching the news on Brexit news felt like “attending the funeral of a close relative through video conferencing”.

He moved to Sweden only a few months before Brexit Day, after being offered a job in Gothenburg.

“But I'd be lying if I said it was the only reason,” he added.

“The reason I was looking for jobs in places like Sweden in the first place was because Brexit seems like the greatest self-inflicted injury any country will ever inflict upon itself. Leaving the EU threatens so much, and it blows my mind that politicians and the general population, barring the hard-core resistance, are so blasé about the whole thing. It's like the entire country, fittingly, has Stockholm Syndrome.”

“I lived with a kind of low-grade depression in the lead-up to Brexit until I came here, and now it's like a hangover that just will not go away,” said Heron.

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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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