What if I want to move back to the UK with my Italian partner after Brexit?

So far most of the talk about Brexit has focused on British people moving to Italy, but the publication of the UK's proposed new immigration rules left some people already here wondering if they'll ever be able to go back.

What if I want to move back to the UK with my Italian partner after Brexit?
Will your Italian partner be welcome in the UK from the end of December 2020? Photo: AFP

The UK earlier this week published its proposed new rules for immigration from the EU after Brexit – which caused concern on both sides of the Channel.

Among the restrictions the UK wants to put in place are a minimum salary level and a requirement of English language skills and a firm job offer.

READ ALSO: 'Doors will close for Brits in the EU' – why the UK's new immigration proposals have sparked alarm.

These are only proposals at this stage, and we don't know what rules Italy will impose in return, but the basic principle has always been one of reciprocity.

So a situation where British people coming to Italy get a significantly better deal than Italian people going to the UK could create political problems for the government in Italy, where anti-immigration sentiment is already running high.

The issue of the future rules between Italy and the UK is one to be discussed during the transition period, but with publication of its immigration plan, the UK seems to be stating an intention to go for the toughest restrictions.

And this has focused the minds of British people in Italy on one issue in particular: what if they want to go back?

One of the big reasons that people have for moving to Italy is because they have a Italian partner – and then of course there are plenty of people who move here for other reasons, meet an Italian, fall in love and settle down together – in Italy.

Photo: AFP

But while their lives now might be in Italy there could in the future be reasons to return to the UK. For example, if parents or other family members become sick and require long-term care.

And if the British government follows through with its immigration plans, that could become a lot more complicated for people with a Italian partner.

In fact some people may be left having to choose between their partner and their family back in the UK.

READ ALSO: No, marrying an Italian won't save you from Brexit

Kalba Meadows from British in Europe told The Local that Brits living in Europe may be forced into a tough choice in future.

“For British nationals living in the EU with non-British spouses or partners, it will effectively close off the possibility in future of returning to the UK to live unless they choose to leave their partner behind.”

“What if they have elderly parents in the UK who need their care … do they really have to choose between partner and parents?”

The proposals from the UK government are very much a sketch at this stage, but the basic premise is that all EU citizens who wish to live in the UK will need a visa, and they will need to satisfy certain requirements in order to get that visa.

The requirements outlined are that any Italian national wishing to move to the UK must:

  • Speak English to the required level (although there don't appear to be any guidelines published on what level of English is required)

  • Have a job lined up that pays £25,600 (€30,820) a year (unless they can demonstrate that their job is in a sector that has a shortage of candidates)

  • The job must be at the required skill level

  • The job offer must come from an approved employer sponsor

There is no mention in the draft text of EU spouses or partners of UK citizens, but under the current third-country national rules simply having a British partner does not guarantee you entry to the UK – you must also fulfill the requirements for a visa.

The document simply says: “The rules for family reunion are outside of the points-based system. However they will remain integral to the transformation of the UK's new immigration system programme.”

There's also the question of when these new rules will be in force by.

Anyone who makes the move before the end of the transition period – currently set for December 31st, 2020 – will be covered by the much more generous provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement, just as British people who move to Italy are.

But there's also an extra grace period on top of the transition period for some people.

Full details here, but the basic premise is that if you are in a relationship with an Italian person and that relationship began before Brexit Day (January 31st, 2020) you could have until March 2022 to take your partner to the UK with you without the need for a visa.

If the relationship begins between now and December 31st, you will have to be in the UK before December 31st in order to get the visa-free status.

The extra grace period was included after extensive lobbying from the citizens' rights group British in Europe – for more on what they do and how you can help, click here.

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Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

As UK driving licence holders in Italy still wait for answers regarding another extension or a long-awaited deal for the mutual exchange of British and Italian licences post-Brexit, we look at how the situation compares to that of their counterparts across Europe.

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

When Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, the British and Italian authorities hadn’t reached a reciprocal agreement on driving licences.

However, UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences in Italy.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered about driving in Italy on a British licence

This was then further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

The UK government announced on December 24th, 2021 that British residents of Italy who didn’t convert their UK licence to an Italian one could continue to use it until December 31st, 2022.

That’s the latest official directive from the authorities, with no decision made on what will happen from January 1st, 2023.

The question on a UK-Italy driving licence agreement rolls on. (Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP)

The latest extension – while providing more time – hasn’t ruled out the need to take the Italian theory and practical driving tests and the clock is ticking again with just over six months left of this grace period.

READ ALSO: How do you take your driving test in Italy?

In fact, the authorities recommend sitting the Italian driving exams whatever the outcome, just in case. The process is known to take months, so UK licence holders find themselves once again taking a gamble on waiting for an accord to be reached or taking the plunge by starting preparations for the tests.

As things stand, the latest update to the driving guidance on the British government’s ‘Living in Italy’ webpage in January states:

“If you were resident in Italy before 1 January 2022 you can use your valid UK licence until 31 December 2022,” however, “you must exchange your licence for an Italian one by 31 December 2022. You will need to take a driving test (in Italian).”

The guidance then states: “The British and Italian governments continue to negotiate long-term arrangements for exchanging driving licences without needing to take a test.”

The Local contacted the British Embassy in Rome to ask for an update on the situation, to which they responded:

“Rest assured the Embassy continues to prioritise the issue of UK driving licence validity in Italy and we continue to engage with the Italian government on this issue.”

Presently, the UK’s new ambassador to Italy, Edward Llewellyn, is touring all 20 regions of Italy and no updates on the driving licence have been given in the meantime.

Could there be a deal which sees all UK licence holders in Italy – those who registered their intent to exchange, those who didn’t, those who did register intent but haven’t been able to finalise the process, and future UK licence holders who move to Italy – able to continue using their UK licences in Italy or easily exchange them for Italian ones without having to sit a driving test?

READ ALSO: ‘Anyone can do it’: Why passing your Italian driving test isn’t as difficult as it sounds

It’s still hard to say, as the authorities continue to advise UK licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while stating that the two governments are still working on an agreement.

The embassy’s most recent announcement was a Facebook post in April acknowledging that “many of you are concerned” about the issue.

“We continue to work at pace to reach a long-term agreement with Italy, so that residents can exchange their UK driving licences without taking a test, as Italian licence holders can in the UK,” the embassy stated.

British residents of Italy can use their driving licenses until the end of this year, the government has confirmed.

British residents of Italy can presently use their driving licences until the end of this year. Photo by PACO SERINELLI / AFP

The embassy reiterated the need for UK licence holders to consider the possibility of obtaining an Italian driving licence via a test, stating: “It is important that you currently consider all your options, which may include looking into taking a driving test now.”

READ ALSO: Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test

So is it true that most European nations have reached successful agreements with the UK over reciprocal driving licence recognition and exchange and the Italian deal is lagging behind?

The evidence suggests so.

UK licence exchange agreements across Europe

As things stand, Italy and Spain are the only European countries where licence exchange negotiations are ongoing.

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions, as authorities have still made no decision on exchanging driving licences or reaching a deal.

UK licence holders in Spain are currently in limbo, unable to drive until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

French and British authorities reached a licence exchange agreement in June 2021, considered a generous one for UK licence holders residing in France as those with licences issued before January 1st 2021 can continue using their UK licences in France until either the licence or the photocard nears expiry.

Sweden and the UK reached a deal even earlier in March 2021. British people resident in Sweden can exchange their UK driving licences for an equivalent Swedish one, without needing to take a test, just as they could when the country was a member of the European Union. 

In Portugal, resident UK licence holders can continue to use their valid UK licences until December 31st 2022 but they must exchange their licences for Portuguese ones before that date.

Other EU nations which have decided to allow UK licence holders residing in their countries to swap their driving licences without having to take a driving test include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.   

There are slight variations in the conditions between countries, and some say you “can exchange”, others that you “must exchange” and most encourage UK licence holders to swap “as soon as possible”. In Greece, UK licences continue to be valid without any restrictions or deadlines for exchange.

That leaves Italy and Spain as the two EU/EEA countries where a deal on a straightforward exchange or long-term recognition of UK licences among residents is still hanging in the balance.  

The only question that’s left is why. 

Why are the driving rights of all Britons who resided in Italy before December 31st 2020 not part of the other protected rights they enjoy under the Withdrawal agreement? 

And why is it taking so long to reach an exchange deal?

So far, Italian and British officials have not provided answers to these questions.

The Local will continue to ask for updates regarding the use of British driving licences in Italy.

Are you a British resident in Italy affected by this issue? We’d like to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below this article or email the Italian news team here.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.

See The Local’s latest Brexit-related news updates for UK nationals in Italy here.