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BREXIT VOTE

EUROPEAN UNION

Has bureaucracy deprived Brits abroad of their vote?

Thousands of British voters abroad might find their vote in this week's crucial referendum is wasted, after some local councils left sending out ballots until the last minute and some post offices on the continent refused to accept ballots, says George Cunningham,

Has bureaucracy deprived Brits abroad of their vote?
George Cunningham warns that many Brits abroad will have missed the chance to vote.

Around 300,000 expat Brits have registered to vote in the EU Referendum on 23rd June, three times as many as for the 2015 General Election. While this is a partial validation of the Electoral Commission’s voter registration drive, successful registration is not the same thing as successful voting.

As we’ve noted before, local British councils need to ensure overseas voters actually receive their postal ballots in time to send them back before polls close in the UK on 23rd June. The debacle of the 2015 General Election is still fresh in many minds, when many ballots were sent out late.

So we asked our Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrat members (in 22 countries) who were allowed to vote to monitor whether they received their postal votes without any glitch.

First the good news. Based on our anecdotal feedback, ballots had been received successfully from 15 local councils two weeks before the referendum: Lewisham (London); Hammersmith (London), Fulham (London), City of Westminster (London); Greenwich, South Norfolk; Poole (Dorset); Lewes (Sussex); Daventry; Dover; Kensington (London); Swansea, Haringey (London); Rushcliffe, Shepway (Folkestone), Oxford and Nottingham City. 

Now the worrying. With less than a fortnight to go, ballots had not arrived with our members from at least three councils: Taunton (Somerset), Eastleigh (which was not sending out the individual’s ballot until 15th June!) and Kettering.

We’ve asked people to stay on the case and let us know when their ballots do arrive. I had to intervene personally with the British Embassy in Brussels in light of last week’s concern that pre-franked envelopes were not being accepted by a small number of post office counters in Belgium (and Germany). The Electoral Commission issued a statement reassuring that all internationally-franked envelops are acceptable but that news clearly sometimes does not filter through to local post offices. 

We are also encouraging Brits abroad to send their ballots back with extra stamps or even by registered post, particularly if their ballot is late arriving, as a member in Portugal’s did.

In the short term, there is really no excuse for councils to be slow about sending out the ballots of overseas voters. We know they are under-resourced and dealing with an unprecedented surge in voter registration. But this referendum hasn’t taken anyone by surprise. It’s been known about for months.

In the longer term, if the Government moves ahead with its manifesto promise to lift the 15 year rule in time for the expected 2020 General Election, there needs to be a concerted effort to create a proper set of overseas constituencies, particularly important as the issues faced by expats are different from the ordinary Brit. 

The Government, Electoral Commission and local authorities all say they want to improve democratic participation. Well fine. But don’t make it difficult (or indeed impossible) for people who actually want to take part. 

Otherwise, it’s not democracy.

George Cunningham is Chair of Brits Abroad: Yes to Europe, a non-partisan 'get out the vote' initiative managed by the Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats. The campaign has a Facebook page with up-to-date news about the debate. More information on the Brussels and Europe Lib Dems referendum campaign can be found by clicking here.

 

For members

VISAS

How to apply for an Italian elective residency visa from the UK

If you're a non-EU UK resident or a British citizen who wants to move to Italy post-Brexit, the elective residency visa is one of the options available to you. Here's how to apply from the UK.

How to apply for an Italian elective residency visa from the UK

Since Brexit was finalised at the start of 2021, British nationals who want to relocate to Italy have been in the same boat as all other extra-EU citizens, requiring a visa to make the move.

For those who receive a passive income and don’t need to work, the elective residency/residence visa (ERV) is a popular choice – though the application process can be confusing.

EXPLAINED: How to apply for an elective residency visa to move to Italy

A recent survey conducted by the Local on the experiences of British citizens moving to Italy post-Brexit found that a number of respondents – mostly retirees – had applied or attempted to apply for this visa.

However many described the process as being far more onerous, complex and stressful than they had anticipated.

One couple who were on their second attempt strongly advised retaining a lawyer, as they found that the information provided by the Italian authorities was not clear or detailed enough to allow for a successful application.

READ ALSO: ‘Seek legal advice’: Your advice on applying for Italian visas post-Brexit

The Local spoke to three experts about how to maximise your chances of success when applying for the ERV.

Most of the advice given was relevant to anyone intending to apply for the ERV, but some related specifically to the experience of people applying from the UK; we’ve compiled that information here.

Because where you’re applying from – rather than your nationality – is the main thing that matters for this application process, this guidance applies equally to non-British citizens who are legally resident in the UK.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re applying for the ERV as a British resident.

Going through an agency

If you want to apply for an ERV from the UK, you’ll likely need to go through VFS Global, an outsourcing agency that handles visa applications for the UK’s Italian consulates.

This is different to how the application process works for people in countries like the US, Canada, or Australia, who usually need to apply directly to the Italian consulate closest to where they are legally resident.

Most UK applicants, by contrast, deal exclusively with VFS Global, whose representatives conduct the appointment, review the documentation and deliver the application to the consulate on their behalf.

Some of the Local’s readers have said they felt penalised by the requirement to go through a third party middleman, as it blocks them from having direct contact with anyone with at the consulate.

But Nick Metta from Studio Legale Metta says going through an agency can actually provide an advantage, as their representatives tend to be well-versed in all the ERV requirements. “Basically they can do a pre-check, and usually that will avoid you the denial letter,” he says.

Agencies can assist you in making sure all your paperwork is in order.

Agencies can assist you in making sure all your paperwork is in order. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

In the absence of an agency, he says, the consular staff member tasked with conducting ERV meetings is often “a front office handler who in most cases is not very well-versed in Italian regulations or requirements,” – some of whom have provided his clients with incorrect information in the past.

Elze Obrikyte from Giambrone & Partners, who regularly assists UK clients with ERV applications, says that the involvement of an agency also means UK applicants have more flexibility about where – and therefore when – they can book an appointment.

For example, while US applicants have to wait for a slot at their nearest consulate to open up, someone in London has the option to book an appointment at VFS’s application centre in, e.g., Edinburgh, potentially fast-tracking the process for those who are keen to get started.

READ ALSO: EU Blue Card: Who can get one in Italy and how do you apply?

What’s required

VFS Global’s checklist says applicants for the ERV in the UK should have:

    • A completed application form, which can be obtained from your consulate.
    • Two recent passport photos.
    • A passport that is valid until at least 90 days after the requested ERV would expire, plus two copies of the front page and of all Schengen visas issued in the past three years.
    • For non-British citizens, a UK residence permit.
    • A cover letter explaining why you intend to move to Italy.
    • Detailed documentation showing “substantial and stable private income”, including official letters from the banks or financial institutions listed (this must be passive income, as ERV recipients are not allowed to work once they arrive in Italy). 
    • Your last two years of income tax returns.
    • A registered ownership deed or rental lease agreement for property in Italy.
    • A reservation for a one-way ticket to Italy.
    • A marriage certificate for those applying as a married couple, and/or a birth certificate showing both parents’ names for dependent minors.

Applying for an ERV to move from the UK to Italy requires a substantial amount of paperwork.

Applying for an ERV to move from the UK to Italy requires a substantial amount of paperwork. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Advice for UK applicants

Giuditta Petreni, who assists clients with ERV applications at Mazzeschi Legal Counsels, says she believes the ERV process has been getting tougher for UK-based applicants in recent years.

Obrikyte says she thinks consulates have become more strict in general over the past decade, but has observed that British applicants tend to struggle more with the application process than their North American counterparts.

“I see that most of them tend to be not well prepared for this type of application, while American and Canadian citizens, they’ve been living in this situation for years, so they prepare better,” she says.

READ ALSO: From visas to language: What Americans can expect when retiring in Italy

British applicants, by contrast, “tend to submit the application without actually putting a lot of effort in and then they are surprised when the application is rejected.”

Obrikyte says one key area where applicants often fall down is the cover letter explaining why they want to move to Italy.

In her experience, ‘pre-rejections’ – provisional refusals that give applicants the opportunity to fix an unsatisfactory aspect of their application before the final decision is made – are often issued on the basis of this letter alone.

She says that when asked to write a motivation letter, her clients will often write about loving the food or the weather. “This is not enough,” says Obrikyte.

READ ALSO: Visas and residency permits: How to move to Italy (and stay here)

“You must really convince them that, for example, you have purchased a property, you have already been spending a lot of time in Italy, and you are integrated in that neighbourhood.”

“Italian language is not a requirement for this visa, but of course if you mention that you are studying Italian or you know Italian, which helps you to integrate better, this is also an advantage for your application.”

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