Europe’s no-deal Brexit contingency planning for residency and healthcare
As Parliament engulfed itself in a Brexit quagmire of its own making, 29 March came and went, and the chances of an Autumn no-deal Brexit increased, it is important to focus on what EU nations have already done to lock-in citizen rights legislation.
The British are welcome in Portugal” said Interior Minister Eduardo Cabrita “as residents, as tourists, as investors, as students”.
Portugal announced its no-deal contingency measures in January, and embedded these protections into law on 28 March. These ensure UK nationals settled in Portugal before the date the UK leaves the EU will continue to be regarded as residents, even in the event of no-deal.
The right to remain and access associated benefits, including healthcare, will continue uninterrupted for existing residents and their families until 31 December 2020.
UK citizens who have been in Portugal for less than five years will need to apply for a registration certificate (cartão de residéncia) with the local câmara municipal or conservatória before Brexit takes place.
Current residence documents will remain valid. After five years, Britons will be able to apply for permanent residence under softer rules than those usually applied to non-EU residents (known as ‘third country nationals’).
Other commitments for UK nationals include:
- No visas required for Britons to enter Portugal;
- Professional qualifications will continue to be recognised for those practising in Portugal before the date the UK leaves the EU;
- Residents can continue driving under a UK licence until 31 December and have until that time to exchange this for a Portuguese licence without having to take a Portuguese driving test;
- Visitors to Portugal will remain eligible for free healthcare up to 31 December 2020
- Separate ‘fast-track’ lanes at airports (Faro and Madeira confirmed) and other entry points for British citizens;
- Extra consular offices (at least 35 across 16 localities) to support expatriate Britons.
However, the legislation states that the guarantees for Britons are conditional on the UK reciprocating in respect of Portuguese citizens in the UK.
Having announced its no-deal contingency measures for UK nationals in January, the Spanish government passed a royal decree in March to embed these into Spanish law. Foreign Minister, Josep Borrell, declared their intention was “to ensure that no citizen is left unprotected…The British living in Spain will continue as before and the Spaniards who live there will as well.”
In a no-deal scenario, Spain has offered to provide 400,000 new residency papers that will allow UK citizens the right to stay and continue accessing existing benefits. Britons would then have until the end of 2020 to apply for a ‘foreigner identity card’ to secure the right to remain. While there are conditions, the process for an existing permanent resident would “be nearly automatic”.
The message for those Britons as yet un-registered or those arriving prior to 31 October 2019, is to make yourself known to the authorities and apply for residency immediately, to benefit from this protection.
The Spanish no-deal measures also include a commitment to continue reimbursing healthcare costs for eligible UK nationals settled in Spain before Brexit until at least 2020.
While this is all reassuring, these guarantees depend upon the UK government offering equal treatment for Spanish nationals in the UK, whether it is through extending existing ‘S1 form’ arrangements, or a new bilateral agreement.
On 17 January, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe confirmed legislation that allowed his government to make quick decisions by decree in the event of a no-deal Brexit. This was necessary, he said, “to respect our obligations, to make sure that the lives of our citizens and… British citizens living in France are impacted as little as possible.”
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Provided that the same rights are guaranteed for French people living in the UK, the new bill enables UK nationals living in France to have:
- The right to remain without a permit and access existing rights for a 12-month period;
- A one-year window in which to acquire formal residency;
- More favourable treatment than other third-country nationals.
Although the French government has allowed extra time for Britons to regularise their residency status, they still recommend this is undertaken as soon as possible, even if a Brexit deal is agreed.
After living in France for five years a UK national becomes eligible to apply for permanent residency. Those present for under five years should apply for a temporary Carte de Séjour residency card, usually renewable each year.
Whilst post-Brexit, UK nationals would apply as ‘third country nationals’, the terms of the new bill mean conditions are simplified compared to the rules for other non-EU citizens.
The bill’s no-deal provisions would also preserve the social security rights of UK nationals living in France before Brexit. UK nationals would also to be able to stay in certain regulated professions not usually open to non-EU foreigners (notaires, avocats, accountants etc.) and to remain as fonctionnaires (civil servants, including teachers in state schools, and nurses in public hospitals).
The French government stated it is “empowered to take any other measure necessary to deal with the situation of British nationals residing in France.”
What we can see here from each nation is a recurring theme – none of the no-deal provisions are automatic – they are all conditional on the UK reciprocating with its own legislation in respect of each jurisdiction.
The only no-deal pledge for which the UK has provided a reciprocal guarantee is in respect of voting rights.
The hope, as the Spanish foreign minister states is that …..“Although it is unilateral measure passed by Spain, we expect that it will be met with reciprocity by the British government.” An the main hope is that it never comes to this. Mr Borrell claimed his government was willing to “do everything we can to make [them] unnecessary” by avoiding a no-deal Brexit. “We hope this never has to be used” he said.
Our thanks to Jason Porter, Director of specialist expat financial advisers, Blevins Franks, for this article.
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