With the UK’s departure from the European Union now pushed back to 31 October, uncertainty both at home and abroad is set to drag on yet further. Whereas those at home in Blighty retain certain assurances, for Britain’s expat community even the most basic of rights still hang in the balance, writes Mike Bedigan, writer and correspondent for the UK's Immigration Advice Service
There are currently an estimated 800,000 Brits living in Europe. Of these, around 350,000 have settled on the Iberian Peninsula (49,000 in Portugal), whose lives on the continent will undoubtedly be affected by the UK’s withdrawal.
Until recently the picture looked quite bleak for British expats, with the European Commission already stating that any preliminary declarations relating to rights of UK citizens in Europe would be “null and void” in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
In a no-deal scenario, the rules for Britons in the EU would become the same for other “third countries” such as America or China, and reciprocal arrangements between the UK and EU - access to national healthcare, Freedom of Movement for work and study, and social security benefits - would disappear overnight.
However, the UK government has sought to address some of the immediate concerns of UK citizens should they wish to remain in Europe, or return home. If the Withdrawal plan is agreed upon, certain rights and benefits will be retained throughout the transition period and up until December 2020 (subject to the specific terms of the deal and agreements between specific countries).
For Britons living in Portugal, the government has promised that all existing rights on social security benefits will be maintained. UK nationals will continue to receive both disability and/ or child benefits that are being exported by the recipient to an EU country. Expats who wish to return home who still meet the conditions of the Ordinary Residence Test will have the same access to NHS healthcare as other UK residents.
For retirees concerned with their pensions, there is also some assurance. The Government states that overseas citizens “will also continue to receive an uprated – and aggregated, if applicable - state pension”. This will be the case for the 2019/20 financial year with scope to continue if Brexit is prolonged yet further. The same will apply to those covered by the Withdrawal Agreement who reach state pension age after the implementation period.
If the UK departs from the EU with a deal in place, the proposed transitional period will grant EU citizens to enter and seek Settled Status in the UK up until 2021, and British Citizens will also be able to keep their current freedom of movement during this time.
The European Parliament has also confirmed that there will be no need for Brits to have visas in order to make short trips. This means a stay of up to 90 days, though visas and permits will be required for longer stays including working or study.
In addition, freedom of movement for the families of UK nationals will also be retained for slightly longer. Those who wish to bring their partners back to the UK will be able to do so without needing to apply for a Spouse Visa until 29 March 2022, providing they can evidence that their relationship existed beforehand. Their children, of course, will also be able to come to the UK during this time without being subjected to the immigration rules. During this period, these close family members will still be able to qualify for the EU Settlement Scheme. However, after March 2022, they will have to apply for a UK visa in accordance with the immigration rules.
Specific arrangements for students or workers are among those that vary within the 27 member states, however, the Portuguese government have already made some promises with regard to UK nationals. Professional qualifications will continue to be recognised for those practising in Portugal before the date the UK leaves the EU and those enrolled in Portuguese higher education before 31 December 2020 will be able to complete their studies, at the same price as their Portuguese peers, without needing to adopt international student status.
However, crucially, these arrangements for Britons are all conditional on the UK reciprocating for Portuguese citizens in the UK. While the citizens’ rights agreement has been agreed in principle on both sides, this still needs to become formally agreed and currently depends on the UK leaving the EU with a deal - something that will now not be clear until October.
Such a long time to ‘wait-and-see’, may mean that the UK sees a substantial ‘Brexodus’ from Europe on the next few months, with citizens returning home to the benefits that they are still afforded by the government. More security is guaranteed, given that both physically and logistically it becomes easier for the government to provide families with support. UK nationals considering a return to the UK or planning applications for new benefits and entitlements should however check their eligibility requirements on the relevant government websites.
This article has been written by Mike Bedigan who is a content writer and correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service – an organisation of leading UK immigration solicitors.
The Brextension until October has meant that the uncertainty must continue. It also means that there is more time for British expats to prepare...hopefully not for the worst.