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Many Brexpats living in EU will face challenges over legal status and access to jobs and benefits—whether or not there is a deal between the EU and UK
Press Release
Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Many Brexpats living in EU will face challenges over legal status and access to jobs and benefits—whether or not there is a deal between the EU and UK

BRUSSELS — As negotiators debate the post-Brexit futures of approximately 3 million European Union nationals living in the United Kingdom and 1 million British citizens resident on the continent, Migration Policy Institute Europe research reveals that these mobile citizens could face challenges in terms of future legal status as well as access to the labour market, social security and health care, whether a deal is agreed or not.

The report, Safe or sorry? Prospects for Britons in the European Union after Brexit, examines the issues many UK citizens in Europe will inevitably face post-Brexit, and offers a demographic profile of this population.

Although the stereotype of pensioners retiring in the sun has captured media attention, the report reveals that Britons residing in Europe are a much more diverse group. The characteristics of these ‘Brexpats’ in terms of age, income levels and economic statuses vary by country, complicating negotiations as individual EU member states have widely divergent interests in the future of their UK residents. In Germany, for example, most UK nationals are highly educated and appear to have moved for work. By contrast most Britons in Spain are lifestyle migrants, with more than one-third who registered between 2012-2016 economically inactive.

Among the report’s findings:

  • An estimated 1.2 million UK-born individuals lived abroad in the European Union as of 2015. Approximately 900,000 of these, as of the most recently available data, were UK citizens not holding another citizenship that would give them an automatic right to stay in their EU country of residence.
  • The largest numbers of the UK born are in Spain (309,000), Ireland (255,000), France (185,000) and Germany (103,000). Britons make up nearly 6 per cent of the population of Ireland, 5 per cent in Cyprus and 3 per cent in Malta.
  • 81 per cent of Britons in Spain have been there for five years or more.
  • As of 2016, the largest over-65 UK-born population was in Spain (117,400 people) and Ireland (43,800), though data is missing for several key countries, including France and Germany.
  • Almost 30,000 requests to practice in other member states from people with UK professional qualifications, such as doctors, nurses and teachers, were agreed between 1997 and 2016, making the United Kingdom the fifth largest sender of EU mobile professionals.

The report also examines four key areas in which many Britons will undoubtedly face significant challenges, including the ability to receive future legal status.

‘Regardless of what happens with the deal on citizens’ rights, there is likely to be a massive increase in UK nationals who find themselves in legal limbo, either de facto unauthorised, waiting to have their residence application processed or in the process of appealing an unfavourable decision about their status’, writes author Meghan Benton, an MPI senior policy analyst.

Britons who have split their time between two countries or have not maintained address or financial records would have particular difficulty providing the documentation to qualify for continued residence, as would those who have been in the country less than five years. If national and EU laws default to treating these Britons as non-EU migrants, even those resident for five years or more could be required to prove their income status and fulfil integration requirements, including language tests. And UK nationals will face greater difficulties bringing in non-EU family members.

The report, supported with a research grant from the Barrow Cadbury Trust, finds Brexit also is likely to create hurdles for mobile UK citizens in other areas, among them access to:

  • The labour market. As third-country nationals, Britons would lose their current employment privileges, such as the right to enter any job without a prospective employer having to first undergo the labour market tests some EU member states impose.
  • To social security. While this is likely to be a priority of any future agreement, existing grey areas in EU law could make agreeing on who is entitled to which benefits difficult. Such decisions are often governed by ill-defined terms such as ‘continual residence’, ‘habitual residence’ or ‘sufficient resources’.
  • To health care. The ability of Britons to access national health-care systems after Brexit is likely to depend heavily on how long they have been in a country and whether their status has been regularised. Moreover, most member states consider holding comprehensive insurance a precondition of continued legal status, and lack thereof going back over the period of residence could become a reason for rejecting residence applications from certain economically inactive groups of UK nationals.

Read the report here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/safe-or-sorry-prospects-britons-european-union-after-brexit.

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MPI Europe provides authoritative research and practical policy design to governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders who seek more effective management of immigration, immigrant integration and asylum systems, as well as better outcomes for newcomers, families of immigrant background and receiving communities throughout Europe. MPI Europe also provides a forum for the exchange of information on migration and immigrant integration practices within the European Union and Europe more generally. For more, visit www.mpieurope.org.