British in Europe – Written evidence (CIT0011)

Background

a)      The ‘constitutive’ system. 13 countries have decided to implement a similar system to that in the UK whereby the citizen’s rights depend on a successful application to and a positive decision of the national authorities i.e. the rights are granted on application. In these countries, as in the UK, there is a hard deadline and failure to apply within that deadline could mean that the citizen loses their rights/has no legal status.

b)      The ‘declaratory’ system. 14 countries have decided to implement a similar system to that applied to EU citizens, where the new residence status will be held automatically where the conditions of the WA are fulfilled but people can register for a residence card as proof of that status. In these countries, there is no hard deadline, although some have provided for a soft registration deadline.

What the Withdrawal Agreement covers

The WA covers the following non-exhaustive list of rights but only in the country where the British citizen is currently resident (the “host state”):

What the Withdrawal Agreement does not cover

 


 

Implementation to date

The other eight constitutive countries have extended their deadline either to 30 September 2021 (Finland and Sweden) or 31 December 2021 (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia). Similar issues arise in relation to their deadlines as they draw closer.

A key issue after the deadline in constitutive countries will be the treatment of late applications and levels of tolerance applied.

 

1 There are some statistics in the recently released third joint implementing report of the EU/UK WA Specialised Committee on citizens’ rights, but the source data are already out of date.cards or residence documents that British citizens held as EU citizens can continue to be used, although there is an option to apply already for the new WA residence card or Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero (TIE). This is not always being applied correctly in practice.

However, a general theme in many countries is the length of time that it is taking to process applications (the COVID crisis is of course a factor) and to issue residence cards in declaratory and residence permits in constitutive countries. This issue is arising, e.g., in declaratory countries Portugal and Italy, as well as constitutive countries e.g. Denmark, where implementation is generally going well but issue of cards is slow (the deadline for applications is end 2021). The Netherlands, on the other hand, appeared to be closer to reaching all UKinEU in country before the original deadline of 30 June 2021 (now extended until 1 October 2021) and plans a communication campaign to reach the British citizens who have not yet applied.

Italy was quick out of the blocks in February 2020 with a circular to local authorities enabling UK citizens to apply for a new WA certificate of residence. There were massive problems with that process, with widespread ignorance among the authorities of the existence of this certificate, the criteria to be met etc. Things began to settle down by the autumn only for the government to announce in December that, as from 1st January 2021, police stations would be issuing a new biometric residence card in accordance with the relevant EC Implementing Decision (effectively restarting the process).

In Portugal, our latest information is that no cards have yet been issued and that until recently, there was no system in place for those who arrived before end of 2020 to register.

a)      Combining WA status with e.g. EU citizen family member or third country national statuses such as EU long term residence or an EU Blue Card, which provide mobility rights.

b)      Dual citizens. Dual citizens who exercised their free movement rights as a British citizen when moving to the country where they are living are still covered by the WA. This means e.g. that a British citizen who moved to Germany and then took German citizenship before the end of transition and was thus able to keep both citizenships would still be covered by the WA.

For many, combining statuses is essential. For example, a dual national may need the enhanced WA provisions on family reunification or recognition of qualifications. A non- dual citizen, on the other hand, may wish to obtain EU long term residence in order to have mobility rights whereas the WA provides none. However in many Member States there is no satisfactory means of proving one’s right to concurrent statuses in one or both categories. There are particular concerns for dual nationals in constitutive countries where they are not able to apply for the status and yet the status is only granted on application

– and deadlines are approaching e.g. France. The Netherlands, on the other hand, allows for both the recording of multiple statuses and for dual nationals to apply for a WA document as proof of their rights.

 

Communication and Support

The obligation of the Member States (i.e. not the Commission) and the UK under WA Art. 37 is to “disseminate information concerning the rights and obligations of persons covered by [the citizens’ rights Part], in particular by means of awareness-raising campaigns conducted, as appropriate, through national and local media and other means of communication.” Compliance by Member States with this obligation has been patchy, to say the least, and in our view a number of countries are in breach.

The quality of communication varies from country to country, and the quality of UK govt information is better on the ground in-country than the central information coming out of London. Certain EU countries e.g. France have done very little indeed to communicate the position of UK citizens under the Withdrawal Agreement while others, like Germany, have provided good central information online but left local communication to regional and local authorities. The bulk of communication to date has been online, both by the UK and EU countries, and we are concerned that those who are not online, especially vulnerable groups, will not be reached as well as certain highly integrated and long-term residents e.g. in Germany, who may have no idea that they need to act. The situation has been made worse by COVID and the lack of physical meetings.

The UK government has put in place a support fund of £3 million to support UK nationals as regards their residence rights (UKNSF), which has recently been extended: the support under this fund does not however cover the whole EU and thus there are differing levels (as well as in quality) of support in different countries.

Supervision of implementation by the European Commission

Following on from the regular consultation of BiE by the Commission (and HMG) during the WA negotiations, we have continued to liaise regularly during and post the transition phase. It undoubtedly helps that BiE is officially recognised by the WA Specialised Committee on citizens’ rights as a representative of UKinEU. The Commission is responsive to the issues that we raise, but the extent to which it is proactively raising its own concerns with Member States is hard for us to judge since such discussions are behind closed doors. It is of course an issue that there is no independent monitoring authority and that the treatment of third country nationals is an area of mixed competence for the EC and EU countries and thus EU countries tend to see this as their area of competence and the EC is reluctant to take action unless there is a fairly clear breach of the WA. However the EC is having regular meetings with the Member States to discuss issues/implementation and has used its powers of persuasion effectively. We will now be advising our members to raise individual issues not only with the Your Europe Advice service (where cases get logged and info fed to EC) but also to make complaints to the EC so that the EC has a better overall view of where there are problems.

The third joint implementation report of the WA Specialised Committee on citizens’ rights, the first since December, was only published on 28 May2. This was with one month to go before the hard deadline and with figures that were not up to date, in particular, in relation to the five countries with constitutive systems and June deadline. Figures for France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Malta and Latvia ranged in date from end March to 19 April. It was difficult to understand why it took so long to publish this report and why some countries had still provided no data at all at this late stage in the implementation process e.g. Germany. Further, according  to  the report,  only  190,800 UK  citizens  of 298,000 in constitutive countries had

 

2    https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/third_report_draft_final_version_for_publication_en.pdf


 

applied as at the date of the report. In the five countries with a June deadline, 171821 had applied out of 213400 leaving 19.5% of the UK population in those countries outstanding.

 

 

I.  CONSTITUTIVE COUNTRIES BELGIUM (Constitutive)

ANNEX

Things now seem to be progressing as more and more communes are issuing appointments for biometrics for the M card (the WA card in BE). We are not aware of any refusals but there is concern that it has taken so long for the system to start operation. The slow start may cause problems when travel opens up if people do not have the WA card.

A significant problem is that many UK citizens in Belgium (UKinBE) are trying to apply for citizenship but are being told that if they swap their existing 2004/38 EU citizen cards for the M card this is not accepted as evidence of residence for citizenship purposes so many British citizens are holding off applying for the M card in the hope that they can get citizenship first. Citizenship takes 4-6 months to obtain in theory so there is a fear that some may leave it too late to apply before the December deadline.

There is also a suggestion in some communes that UKinBE are being encouraged to apply for the F card family permit where they are married to EU citizens exercising free movement without being advised of the impact of this on their WA rights in a constitutive country (in a constitutive country, without a successful application within the deadline, the WA rights will be lost).

(As at 20 May 2021)


 

DENMARK (Constitutive)

Travelling after the end of June deadline: Denmark are allowing applications under the WA until the end of the year and have allocated specific months for British citizens to apply, based on the year of birth. Unfortunately that means some UK nationals (UKNs) will not have their card until 2022 and we fear that it may be difficult for those without a WA card to travel after June in and out of Denmark, especially via The Netherlands or Germany. Staff at those borders may not know that Denmark have extended the application process until the end of the year and could refuse to accept old EU paperwork. For instance, an existing permanent residency permit is simply a printed out letter posted to the UK national via their electronic mail box, and it is only in Danish.

Also, on travel, some UKNs have erroneously been informed by SIRI that they need re-entry permits when travelling abroad. Apparently these are usually issued to non-EU residents and therefore some staff think they are now required for UKNs, which is incorrect.

Delay in cards being issued: Earlier in the year there seemed to be delays with biometrics, with UKNs waiting many weeks to receive their invite to attend SIRI to have their biometrics taken. This has now improved. However, despite the application process starting in January, no cards had been issued up until about two weeks ago. It seems that some people are still waiting for cards which they applied for in January, while others who applied in March have already received their cards. We have heard reports that some cards were sent to SIRI from the manufacturers with mistakes, and so have had to be replaced, leading to increased delays. Despite this, the process seems to be running more smoothly and, as yet, we have had no reports of any refusals

Dual Nationals: Positive news on this. Denmark are allowing Lounes Dual Nationals to apply and one of our members has already completed the process and received their card. However, getting people to actually apply is a problem as they cannot understand why they should do it in order to protect their rights under the WA that are in addition to their rights as dual citizens.

(As at 12 May 2021)


 

FRANCE (Constitutive)

Overall the system is still progressing well and has good user feedback. The system is that applications are made online via an application portal,and then distributed to the relevant préfecture which processes the application then calls the person in for biometrics and an ID check. This is a quick and easy procedure which takes around 10 minutes and does not involve any kind of questioning or interview. The residence card is then produced at a central location and should be sent by registered post, meaning that only one visit to the préfecture is required. All UKNs must hold cards by 1 October, giving préfectures 3 months to deal with all outstanding applications.

Key points are:

Other issues

The information in this report was compiled on 13 June 2021.

LUXEMBOURG (Constitutive)

The application system is very quick and straightforward. The current completion time from application to new biometric WA card in your hand is 2-3 weeks. That said, we believe that up to 10% of the non-EU dual UK population has yet to apply. That is not a huge number in the overall scheme of things but a failure in a country as small and digital as LU where the population is largely of working age or younger and where the government knows where we live. The LU government is now sending out letters to those who have not applied. We and the embassy have been asking for this to be done for some time. Our view is that the government is in breach of its information obligations but when pushed to do more last summer they made it clear that they were doing enough in their opinion. We have also asked for concrete information on what the consequences of a failure to apply will be but have never been given an answer to this question.

For LU it seems to be still that about 600 have not applied, so 10% of the overall non-dual population but recent information suggests that these are mostly those working for the EU officials – we are however checking this.

(As at 25 May 2021)

 

THE NETHERLAND (Constitutive)

Eligible UK Nationals (UKNs) have to submit residence applications by 30th June 2021.

(As at end May 2021)

II.  DECLARATORY COUNTRIES GERMANY (Declaratory)

On the whole, UK citizens who have received their residence cards are very relieved after nearly 5 years of uncertainty now to have documentation with which they can prove their status. British in Germany has run a survey to obtain feedback on the process. A large majority of those taking our survey after their appointment with the Foreigners’ Office are positive about their interview. (However around 10% are not and at earlier stages of the process there is a 50:50 positive/negative split.)

Top issues

The UK Embassy has provided messaging including video clips and text-based information via Facebook. The Embassy has held monthly online Q&A sessions, although publicity for these is relatively restrained. Questions asked and answered between 30 and 90 per session. These are published by gov.uk and are readable by anyone who locates them. There have been no face to face events in the last 18 months (constrained by the pandemic).

(As at end May 2021)

ITALY (Declaratory)

Italy was quick out of the blocks in February 2020 with a circular to local authorities (of which there are nearly 8,000), enabling UK citizens in Italy (UKinIt) to apply to the local authority for a new WA certificate of residence. There were massive problems with that process, with widespread ignorance among the authorities of the existence of this certificate, the criteria to be met etc. Things began to settle down by the autumn only for the government to announce in December that, as from 1st January 2021, police stations would be issuing a new biometric residence card in accordance with the EC Implementing Decision. The vademecum announcing this new card does not say that it is mandatory but equally does not make it clear that it is not.

No cards were available for issue in January and, although people were able to make appointments to get the card, no cards were actually issued until late March. Appointments for cards are being given as far away as the autumn and there are still problems in actually issuing cards after the appointment (the author of this note had an appointment in early February but still has no card; there have also been technical problems reported concerning fingerprinting for the biometric card, resulting in more than one visit to the questura).

Very serious problems were caused to some people by two failures of the government. The first was a failure, in breach of the WA, to provide information about the WA rights and obligations of UKinIt. The second was a failure to update its computer systems to prevent them asking us for a standard non-EU citizen residence permit that we simply do not have.

Information: The government failed to issue a clear authoritative statement that (i) we do not need a residence permit (a document only issued to non-EU citizens, but exceptionally not to UK nationals who arrived before 31.12.20 due to the provisions of the WA) and (ii) the new residence card is optional and we can prove our residence before 31.12.20 by a number of other means. Despite a lot of pressure they have still not done so at the date of writing. The closest one can find to such a statement is a minute of an inter-ministerial committee that has been posted recently on a government website but it is not easy to find either for UK nationals or officials and is therefore of little assistance.

As a direct result of the lack of government information, a number of UK nationals covered by the WA were unable to complete the purchase of a house (as the notary wrongly required a residence permit), to rent an apartment, to open a bank account, to get a mortgage, to buy a car or other vehicle and to do many other normal essential activities. Some people have also been asked by the police on routine checks to produce a residence permit which they cannot do.

Information on the procedure for getting the residence card was not bad at the beginning, but a number of difficult issues remained – eg the definition of durable partners (a public announcement of the policy is awaited), the procedure for vulnerable people who cannot get to a police station (a policy is awaited). There is still no policy on applications for additional statuses (such as Blue Card or Long Term Residence Directive) which would enable mobility within the EU for those who need it, eg for work or to get home fee status if studying in a university outside their state of residence.

Computer systems: Many official computer systems required the production of a residence permit (ie assumed that we were exactly the same as other third country nationals), and would not allow the user to proceed further without it. As a result of this it was not possible for a UK national to get or renew a work contract (as the employer is fined if it does not register such a contract - so some lost their jobs), to set up as self-employed, to get social security benefits or claim their Italian pension, and, in many regions, to get or renew a health card which is essential for accessing the Italian NHS, so some could not get treatment. The same problem also beset applications for Italian citizenship.

These problems became apparent in February and March. The British Embassy has been lobbying the government hard and sometimes at a high level to get them sorted. The result has been piecemeal success – eg a workaround on the computer system for registering work contracts (putting in a 2099 date), an announcement by the Italian Banks Association, an announcement by the Notaries association, an internal note to the health authorities etc. As a result the problems have diminished considerably but not completely and if the government were only to comply with its duty under Art. 37 WA to provide proper information about the Agreement, then matters would be much better.

Administration of the National Health Service in Italy is devolved to the Regions, and some people are still being refused registration with the Health Service unless they have a residence permit or card. Although in some Regions Covid vaccinations are available without registration with the Health Service (as indeed is national policy), some people are still being refused vaccination without it.

Driving licences: The Italian government has recently announced that people can continue driving on UK DL for the rest of this year: this followed a period when this was not possible so that people living in rural areas and dependent on a car were in great difficulty because they were unable to prepare for and get an appointment for an Italian driving test but unable to continue to use their UK licence. However there is still no bilateral agreement on exchange of licences on a more permanent basis.

(As at May 17th 2021)

SPAIN (Declaratory)

The following are the key issues resulting from implementing of the WA:

Acceptance of green document

The Spanish government’s official position is that the green cards or residence documents that British citizens held as EU citizens can continue to be used, although there is an option to apply already for the new WA residence card or Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero (TIE).

There is clear evidence of widespread deviation at a local level from the government’s position in respect of treatment of the green document. This is probably most acute at the border (see below), but there have also been reports of issues for example in registering changes of address with local authorities (registering for the padrón). This registration is far reaching as it encompasses schooling, electoral qualification and acts as a proof of residence that could be demanded in securing permanent residence.

There is a linked problem with non-officials (lawyers and gestors – administrative “go betweens”) who advise or enact legally based transactions (and estate agents) who are either ignorant of, or exploit, the formal government requirements. This extends to refusal of employment due to non-possession of the TIE based on gestorial advice. We believe that the government has attempted to train and advise officialdom in general. A dedicated citizen helpline is provided by the Spanish government and a dedicated Brexit (and English language) option is available. However, this only helps to solve the issue once it arises, not prevent it.

There have been reported cases where, particularly, immigration police have made caustic comments to the effect that “well the green document is being phased out”. This is something that both the Embassy and Spanish government have denied but the fact it is being said leaves suspicions no smoke without fire principle. Against this, of course, Spain is not going to phase out green documents per se as they have been issued to nationals of the EU!

Passport stamping

We still hear isolated and anecdotal reports of WA protected citizens having passports stamped. There seems to be more chance of this occurring if the green document rather than the TIE card is produced. However, there is a suggestion that it is linked to a wider systemic issue of failure to differentiate between WA protected individuals and non-WA protected. The current situation is, in any case, artificial due to a) Covid restrictions and b) exceptionally low volumes compared to pre Covid trends. We are likely only to get a true picture of the core problem (if any) when volumes approach previous levels.

Other administrative

These issues stem from deviation from official requirements. The most notable is in terms of driving licence exchange where there is evidence that requirements over and above those set by the Ministry of Transport are imposed.

There are reports, especially from the Costas, that cases of proving residence at 31.12.20, in the absence of completing the formalities by that date, are subject to local interpretation. Covid has not helped but there appears to be an absence of categoric unequivocal guidance to officials (and to UK citizens) on this point.

Health

This is not an issue that EuroCitizens has encountered on a “case basis” other than in asking the Embassy for greater clarity. There are issues where there are greater concentrations of UK citizens but the suspicion is that this may be the result of confusion of status – not helped by the residence proof issue above.

15 June 2021