British nationals living and working on the continent say they are “entirely in the dark” over their future status, with no direct communication from the governments of France, Spain or Germany on what they need to do after Brexit.
While the Home Office has launched a “stay informed” campaign for EU citizens in the UK with adverts and email updates on the progress of negotiations, there has been no reciprocal communication to Britons living in the 27 member states.
EU leaders have been relatively silent on the matter of Britons living in their countries but must decide soon what action to take over the post-Brexit immigration status of UK nationals.
“EU countries have the option of going for a default position which will mean we don’t have to make an application for a new status, or they could go for something like the UK’s settled status, but so far we are entirely in the dark,” said Jane Golding, the chair of the campaign group British in Europe.
After Brexit, Britons living on the continent or in the Republic of Ireland will technically become third-country nationals but, like EU citizens in Britain, governments will seek to distinguish themselves from other non-EU members such as Americans or Australians, who are subject to strict immigration rules.
With the clock ticking, this has led to concern among some campaigners that EU leaders could yet force Britons into a new immigration process similar to the Home Office system to which campaigners for EU citizens in Britain have objected.
Under the withdrawal agreement, EU leaders have two clear options. The first is a declaratory system that mirrors what happens now in each EU member state. This would not involve Britons doing any extra paperwork and would merely confirm what citizens already hold, whether as permanent residents of more than five years or temporary residents with less than five years.
The second option could be a “constitutive” system forcing Britons to apply for new immigration status, mirroring the Home Office proposed “settled status” for EU citizens.
“For some people this would be a problem. People who have been living in a country for a long time and don’t have paperwork. And our status would be conditional on a successful application,” said Golding.
As in the UK, the system would also involve criminality checks and the risk of human error with people wrongly facing deportation threats, as happened in the UK last year when the Home Office accidentally sent deportation letters to more than 100 EU citizens.
Recognition of professional qualifications is another outstanding issue that could affect lawyers, architects and anyone else living in one EU country but providing services in another one.
Providing services to another country or to another person in another country is also not included in the deal on the table, leaving working Britons involved in transnational EU business worse off than they were before Brexit.
Steve Peers, an academic and EU law specialist, said other categories of people would also be affected by Brexit, including future EU spouses. At the moment an EU citizen living in the UK who later gets married to another EU citizen will not have the automatic right to bring their spouse to Britain.
Young children of widowed EU and non-EU couples where the surviving parent is a non-EU national could also affected. The so-called Zambrano child could argue that their potential to acquire EU rights and citizenship was being denied if the parent wanted them to return, for example, to Australia.