OPINION: ‘Sweden must step up its efforts to reach Brits as post-Brexit deadline looms’

Sweden needs to release more data on the Brits whose post-Brexit residence status applications have been rejected, and have a clear plan in place for those at risk of missing the deadline altogether, writes David Milstead of the Facebook group Brits in Sweden.

A person getting their fingerprints taken at the Migration Agency.
Brits have until September 30th to apply for their post-Brexit residence status in Sweden. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

At the end of 2020 Sweden introduced a new immigration status (uppehållsstatus) and protections for cross-border workers to protect Brits who would otherwise be left without rights when the transition year ended. The deadline for applications for uppehållsstatus is looming (September 30th) and it’s worth asking how well the programme has been working. The report card is mixed.

Anecdotally from the Brits in Sweden Facebook community, the vast majority of applications are being approved. However, Migration Agency case workers sometimes make what are felt to be unreasonable demands. Furthermore, though the average waiting time is two to three months there are often far longer delays. Also, while most are clued up on the need to apply, a few aren’t and they are often those Brits who’ve been here the longest.

Anecdotes about Sweden’s protections have a value but give an incomplete picture and should ideally be matched with quantitative data. Regrettably, even at this late stage in the application window, there is little relevant data published by the Migration Agency. The explanation given for not including uppehållsstatus in the Migration Agency’s regularly updated statistical overview of applications is that uppehållsstatus is new. However, the application period for uppehållsstatus is short (10 months) and will soon end. The absence of detailed published data makes scrutiny difficult. Furthermore, the data that are public raise concerns.

When uppehållsstatus is discussed in the media, the headline figures tend to be the number of applications and the number of citizens who need uppehållsstatus to retain their rights on October 1st. The official target is for 17,000 applications and the data show that around 10,000 applications have so far been made. However, the target is known to be an overestimate due to many Brits recently becoming Swedish citizens.

Furthermore, there are many Brits who weren’t included in the 17,000 estimate as they had secure residence but who will have applied anyway to retain enhanced family unification rights. In other words the difference between the official target and the number of applications is not a particularly useful proxy for determining how many need to apply. The absence of any serious public assessment on the number of unprotected Brits is worrying especially in view of the impending deadline. If that number is large Sweden should consider extending the deadline, as was done in France and the Netherlands. 

Maybe we shouldn’t worry about those who don’t apply in time. I’ve often seen it remarked that they would only have themselves to blame. However, this ignores the many vulnerable people who aren’t web-savvy. As for those who arguably should have known and acted, the referendum was five years ago and life (and residence rights) have carried on as normal. It is easy for someone who doesn’t follow the news and is without British friends in Sweden to not know about the need to apply. Furthermore, cross-border travel has been massively suppressed due to Covid-19 so there wouldn’t even be a trigger at passport control.   

The Withdrawal Agreement recognises that we are all fallible and places a legal responsibility on the host state to reach out to the community to inform them about uppehållsstatus. Brits in Denmark and the Netherlands have received letters from the government telling them to apply. Sweden’s outreach effort is perceived to be weak in comparison. 

Furthermore, Sweden has given no substantive explanation on how Brits without rights on October 1st will be treated. According to the Withdrawal Agreement, anyone who can supply a good reason for not applying on time can be considered. However, Sweden needs to define what they regard as good reasons. In addition, social benefits and the right to work are linked to having a legal residence status. Will Brits who don’t apply find themselves effectively falling off a cliff-edge on October 1st?     

When it comes to outcomes of those applications that have been made, the Joint Committee which oversees the implementation of the common Withdrawal Agreement residence protections in the UK and the EU reports that 8.5 percent of applications for work/residence protections in Sweden did not lead to a permit being given. This is higher than reported for states which host British populations which may be expected to have similar demographic profiles as that in Sweden, such as the Netherlands, Finland and Denmark. In those countries, only 1-3 percent of applications didn’t lead to a status.

The equivalent figure for the UK’s Settled Status programme is 4.9 percent though this also includes rejected applications from EU nationals who are dual UK-EU citizens (and thus have residence security) but who can’t hold the Settled Status immigration title. 

The UK voted in 2016 to leave the European Union. Photo: AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali

There are certainly possible reasons for such a large difference in outcomes between Sweden and other countries which are not alarming. For example, Sweden has comparatively generous citizenship rules which thousands of Brits have used as a Brexit lifeboat. This skews the data such that applications in Sweden are dominantly (though not exclusively) made by Brits who arrived in the past five years.

However, the Netherlands and Finland also publish the proportion of applications that didn’t lead to a residence status from Brits who typically moved to those states in the past five years. These data also seem to be at around the 2-3 percent level.

Another factor that may explain the difference is data definition. Sweden may include repeated applications or applications for cross-border residence permits in its figures which may be omitted in other countries. There may also be differences in the breakdown of reasons why applications weren’t granted (i.e. formally refused, withdrawn/invalid or incomplete). The question of whether the Brit in Sweden is treated fairly (or unfairly) compared to other Brits in the EU (or EU citizens in the UK) is a basic one to which, unfortunately, a firm answer can’t be given, despite the data raising concerns. 

If comparisons between countries on application rejections are tricky, they can be made between different groups of Brits in Sweden applying for uppehållsstatus. The Migration Agency supplied on request data related to applications made up to the end of July. Outcomes for different applicant categories, eg employee, self-sufficient and student can thus be studied.

Around 10 percent of applications made under the student category didn’t lead to a status being granted. This rises to 14 percent for self-sufficient applicants, which may be related to a demand by the Migration Agency for some self-sufficient applicants to show up to five years’ worth of funding. This demand seems both odd and excessive given that a Brit can change category from eg self-sufficient to worker at any point. Furthermore, EU citizens in Sweden whose residence rights are nominally governed by the same rules as Brits under the Withdrawal Agreement do not face such a demand. 

What about cross-border workers? Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Another worrying statistic concerns applications for a cross-border worker certificate to allow a Brit who lives elsewhere but who worked in Sweden in 2020 to continue to do so. Around 50 percent of these applications failed. Limited anecdotal evidence suggests Sweden is not taking into account Covid-related difficulties in cross-border working during 2020. There can be other explanations such as posted workers from the UK applying even though they are not eligible. However, the data require an explanation. 

One should spare a thought for those who have applied but are waiting for a decision. The average time to a decision is around 2.5 months according to a poll in Brits in Sweden. However, the distribution of waiting times has very large tails.  Anyone who worries that they still don’t have a decision after applying in December when the scheme started should be aware that they’re not alone. The Migration Agency states that there were 162 such people living in limbo at the end of July. 

As mentioned at the start of this piece, the report card is mixed. On one hand, the majority of Brits are empirically sailing through. On the other hand, despite applying as soon as the application window opened, some Brits are still waiting for a decision. Furthermore, a demand from the Migration Agency on self-supporting Brits and data on application outcomes raises concerns. Worryingly there may be thousands who will even miss out on applying by the deadline with little information on how they will be treated.  

Going forward in the limited time left, it is essential that Sweden steps up its outreach efforts and makes public plans for dealing with late applications and applicants. If the number of unprotected Brits is large, Sweden should consider extending the deadline. Furthermore, comprehensive data on applications and outcomes need to be published, ideally with an analysis of why some applications fail. Finally, it may be worth the Migration Agency prioritising applications from those who have waited the longest for a decision. 

Member comments

  1. I’ve mulled over this article for a couple of days now and still can’t get my head round why the Swedish or British authorities should chase those who haven’t yet sorted out their post-Brexit residency status. One must be leading an extremely sheltered life somewhere in the vast Swedish forest or alone on a small island to not have heard about Brexit and the subsequent new residency status of hundreds of thousands of British people who live somewhere within the EU.

    I’ve also seen a few mentions in the France edition of The Local of British people living a secluded life out in the French countryside who seem to be blissfully unaware that they need to update their status, with the imminent danger of losing their health insurance entitlements and much more. And presumably a similar situation can be found in places other than just Sweden and France.

    Even the old chestnut of not having access to the internet is running out of steam. There will of course always be people who refuse to have a television, computer, smartphone, or the paper version of a newspaper or whatever, but as a ‘foreigner’ one surely has the moral obligation to keep abreast of local residency laws and permits and keep an eye out for when they need to be renewed or the status needs to be updated.

    1. I agree with you completely, why are they more special than any other immigrant to the country? It’s pure entitlement, honestly if they miss the deadline they should be deported like every other person who breaks the law.

  2. This manifesto belongs to Facebook, where it originally came from. Entitled rubbish and a waste of bytes.

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Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”