There may still be problems with the EU settlement scheme in the UK but at least it has been live since March 2019.
Whereas the estimated three million UK citizens who live and work in the EU can only speculate about the problems that await them concerning similar systems in EU countries.
The majority of EU Member States have not yet started implementing these systems. The spectre of a no deal Brexit last year and now the COVID-19 crisis has meant that most will not go live until July or later, and in some cases, not until 2021.
While we understand why schemes are not yet in place, we think that far more attention needs to be paid to the implementation of British citizens’ rights across the EU. And we are calling on the European Parliament to take a lead on this.
Time is short, as the UK shows no sign of requesting an extension to the transition period, despite the unprecedented situation caused by the pandemic.
Furthermore, implementation has to take place across 26 different countries (the position in Ireland is different).
“The crisis makes registering and securing permanent residence under the current rules more difficult, while some people are trapped in the UK or elsewhere and unable to get home to their host state”
Primarily a grassroots volunteer organisation, British in Europe is doing its best to monitor what is going on and has built up a pan-European movement of citizens’ groups in nearly all EU Member States.
The UK government, through its Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is following progress. However, responsibility for monitoring, of course, lies with the European Commission.
Time is of the essence, particularly in so-called constitutive systems, as applications for the Withdrawal Agreement status must in principle be in by end June 2021.
EU countries had the option either to implement an application or constitutive system like the UK, where the status depends on a successful application - or a registration or declaratory system, where registration confirms the rights in the Withdrawal Agreement.
In contrast to the UK, where EU citizens were not registered because there is no national registration system, UK citizens in the EU were already registered in national systems in nearly all EU countries.
A specific exception was France where registration was not compulsory. Nevertheless, around half of EU countries have opted to require British citizens to apply to secure their status and, clearly, processing applications takes longer than confirming status through a registration.
“British in Europe believes that the solution is to extend the transition period. This would also allow citizens more time to build up the five years necessary to acquire permanent residence, or enough years to apply for citizenship”
The COVID-19 crisis will inevitably lead to delays and general backlogs in countries’ immigration systems, and British citizens trying to secure their status cannot take precedence.
The crisis makes registering and securing permanent residence under the current rules (UK citizens are still covered by EU rules during the transition period) more difficult, while some people are trapped in the UK or elsewhere and unable to get home to their host state.
If they don’t yet have permanent residence and are out of the country for more than six months, they may have to start from zero or lose their rights. Others may have been planning to move during the transition period, which ends on 31 December, and are unable to currently do so due to lockdowns.
This particularly affects young people, especially those working or studying in another country than their host country. Not only are they having to cope with exams or internships being cancelled, but also delays and problems with citizenship and residency applications, plus an uncertain future.
For all these reasons, British in Europe believes that the solution is to extend the transition period. This would also allow citizens more time to build up the five years necessary to acquire permanent residence, or enough years to apply for citizenship.
Finally, it is important to remember that the Withdrawal Agreement does not cover all of our current rights but only the majority of our rights in the country where we live now (even if we have lived in others).
Free movement, cross-border working, and the EU-wide recognition of qualifications, for example, are not covered, although not expressly removed. In fact, the Withdrawal Agreement does not cover mobility rights, except for frontier workers.
Again, this will affect younger groups disproportionately, although British in Europe members, generally, are very mobile and 80 percent of us are working age or younger.
In other words, as former EU citizens who have exercised free movement rights, we will in future have fewer mobility rights than other third country nationals who have EU long term residence, even where we have acquired permanent residence in our host state.
The current situation, compounded by the coronavirus crisis and with the clock rapidly ticking towards end of transition, clearly gives cause for real concern.