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RESIDENCY PERMITS

Brexit: Five key things to know about applying for residency in the EU

As tens of thousands of Brits across Europe prepare to begin the process of applying for residency rights to ensure their right to remain after Brexit, here are five key points you should know, thanks to British in Europe.

Brexit: Five key things to know about applying for residency in the EU
Photo by Markus Spiske

British nationals across Europe are facing a crucial time over the coming weeks and months as most face the prospect of having to apply for residency or at least register with authorities as a way of ensuring their future in the EU.

While the Withdrawal Agreement was ratified in January this year EU countries have the task of implementing the rights it guarantees British Citizens in the EU.

And things are moving slowly, with the UK having made more progress in registering EU citizens.

“Across the EU things are very much further behind than in the UK,” Kalba Meadows from British in Europe told a parliamentary committee this week.

“In fact there are only three EU countries where implementation (of the Withdrawal agreement) has begun: Italy, Netherlands and Malta,” she said

Other countries are at different stages with some having legislation in place to ensure the rights of Brits are guaranteed whilst others do not, she explained.

British in Europe have helped spell out some important points on the issue of residency rights and the procedures that British readers should be aware of. The points below are taken from British in Europe's Guidance note.

1. There's no minimum duration for living in a country before December 31st 2020

You will be covered by the WA for residence if you (a) lived legally (see above) in your host country before the end of the transition period and (b) you continue to do so afterwards. All possible situations where the right of residence stems from free movement rules are included.

This includes ordinary residence, whether you’re employed, self-employed, self-sufficient or a student; permanent residence; residence as a family member; and residence under the special rules for jobseekers.

There is no minimum duration for having lived legally before the end of the transition period. Example: you move to Finland to take up employment on December 1st 2020 and remain there after December 31st 2020. You are covered by the WA.

2. You don't actually need to be physically in the EU on December 31st

You don’t need to be physically present in your host country at the end of the transition period to be covered by the WA, as long as you remain legally resident on that day.

This is because as a legal resident you are allowed to be absent from your host country for certain periods without losing your residence rights: As an ordinary resident, you can be away from your host country for no more than 6 months every year without losing your resident status.

You’re allowed one longer absence of up to 12 months in the 5 year period for ‘important reasons’: eg childbirth, serious illness, study, vocational training or posting elsewhere (this is not an exhaustive list).

Once you have acquired permanent residence under the Withdrawal Agreement, you can be away from your host country for 5 years – an increase on the 2 years permitted for EU citizens – and still retain the right to return and keep your rights of permanent residence.

3. Rights don't change if you lose or change your job

Your right of residence under the WA in your host country is not affected if you change your status. Your ‘status’ for this purpose represents the category under which you are exercising your free movement rights: employed, self-employed, non economically active and self-sufficient or student.

So your rights are not affected if, for example if you stop being a student and start work, if you stop working and become non-economically active and self-sufficient, or if you move between the categories in any other way.

You can also hold more than one status at one time – for example you can be a student who is simultaneously self-employed. There are no procedural consequences attached to a change of status – you don’t have to report it to your registration authority or apply for or request a new residence document.

4. The qualifying period for permanent residency doesn't have to be the last 5 years

If you already hold permanent residence status under current free movement rules at the end of the transition period, you will be eligible for permanent residence status under the WA.

If you have not been resident long enough to acquire permanent residence status under the WA at the end of the transition period, you can continue to build up your years until you reach 5 years, when you will be eligible for permanent residence under the WA.

Periods both before and after the end of transition will be taken into account. One very important precision is that the qualifying period of residence does not have to be immediately before the moment when the right of permanent residence is claimed.

This means, for example, that if you have been resident in your host country for over 5 years but your circumstances changed recently, leaving you struggling to meet the conditions, you can call upon an earlier period of residence during which you did meet the conditions to use as your qualifying period.

5. Deadlines could be crucial depending on the country you are in

13 countries are adopting a constitutive system.

We still await the published list, although most countries now have stated which they will adopt. In a constitutive scheme you acquire residence status only if (a) you make an application for it and (b) that application is granted. In other words, the ‘source’ of your residence status and the rights that stem from it is the decision on your application made by the registration authority in your host country. It’s that decision, and the residence document that is issued as a result, which confers your residence status.

This is how ‘settled status’ works in the UK, and it also corresponds to the type of system used to deal with residence applications in EU member states from third country nationals. In a constitutive scheme, if you miss the deadline to apply for a new status under the WA or your application isn’t successful you will have no residence status and therefore in principle no legal right to reside.

This means that, if your host country is operating a constitutive scheme, it is crucial that you meet the deadline for applying for your new residence status. This deadline cannot be earlier than 30 June 2021 (6 months after the end of the transition period) and in some host countries may be later – but don’t miss it!

British in Europe stress that it's important to read their full guidance note to understand all the issues around gaining residency in an EU country. You can read the full document HERE.

 

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BREXIT

Frustration grows as UK driving licence holders in Italy wait in limbo

British nationals living in Italy are becoming increasingly concerned by the lack of news about a reciprocal driving licence agreement post-Brexit, and say the current 'catch-22' situation is adversely affecting their lives.

Frustration grows as UK driving licence holders in Italy wait in limbo

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Italy who are currently playing a waiting game on the validity of their driving licences.

Those who are driving in Italy on a UK-issued permit currently have just over six months left before their licence is no longer accepted on Italy’s roads.

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

That is, unless a deal is reached between the UK and Italy, or another extension period is granted.

Another extension would mark the third time the authorities have deferred making an agreement on UK driving licences in Italy.

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

With just days to go before the deadline in December 2021, those still using a UK licence were granted a reprieve when it was further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

But the situation from January 1st, 2023, remains unknown.

In the remaining few months, British nationals driving in Italy who hadn’t converted their licence to an Italian one before January 1st, 2021 face the same choice again: wait and hope for an agreement or start the lengthy and costly process of taking their Italian driving test.

There is still no confirmation on reaching an agreement on driving licences. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Many UK nationals have contacted The Local recently to express their frustration, anger and concern over the situation, explaining how the possibility of not being to drive in Italy would profoundly impact their lives.

For some, it would mean not being able to get to work, losing their independence, not being to reach supermarkets for the food shop in remote areas, or not being able to take their children to school.

And in the meantime, many readers told us it means ongoing worry and uncertainty.

Reader David (not his real name), who moved to the southern region of Puglia shortly before Brexit hit, tells us he now finds himself in a “horrible catch-22 situation”.

He summed up the feeling among many of those who contacted The Local by saying: “It is highly concerning and not at all helpful for mental or physical health in a period when we are trying to settle in to a new life in Italy.”

He points out that, for him, retaking his driving test and getting an Italian licence would also mean having to sell his car and buy one with a less powerful engine.

“I realise that if I pass the Italian driving test and obtain an Italian licence, then I will be a neopatente (new driver) with three years of serious restrictions,” he says.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about getting an Italian driving licence post-Brexit

Newly administered licences in Italy carry restrictions including on the maximum engine size of the car the holder may drive, tighter speed limits on the motorway and extra penalty points for breaking them.

“In this situation, I am honestly dis-incentivised to get the Italian licence unless there seriously is a real ‘no deal’ scenario on the table,” he says.

“Because if I get an Italian licence now – and of course I could choose now to invest a lot of time and money to get it – and then an agreement is reached to exchange licenses, then I might find myself in a worse position than if I just waited to do an exchange.”

“I am sincerely hoping for an agreement to be reached for experienced drivers with a UK licence.”

James Appleton lives in Milan and says he feels “frustrated about the situation”. Although he concedes that he lives in the city with all the convenience that implies, he is worried about having a car sitting outside his flat that he can no longer drive from January.

“The frustration now is with little over six months left of the year, advice from the authorities has continued to be quite unhelpful,” he tells us.

“We keep hearing, ‘consider your options’. I know my options: I have to start the process of taking a test, which is expensive and lengthy, and which may turn out to be unnecessary, or wait until the end of the year. Those have been my options for year and a half,” he adds.

Frustration for many British nationals still waiting on a post-Brexit driving licence agreement. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

“I feel very much in limbo. If it gets to November and we still haven’t heard anything, I risk having a car that I can’t drive from January as my licence may no longer be valid.

My hope would be if there’s not to be a deal, let us know so there’s time to take the test,” James says. “I don’t want to find out with a week to go, like last year.”

He points to the fact that many other non-EU countries have reciprocal driving licence agreements with Italy, so why not the UK? Meanwhile, Italy is one of only two countries in the EU still not to have made a deal on driving licences.

While he said he didn’t want to sound “entitled”, the lack of clarity was simply confusing.

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

Like many others, he tried but didn’t manage to convert his British licence in time as he moved to Italy shortly before the Brexit deadline.

James registered as a resident in December 2020, leaving little time to begin the conversion process. He admitted it was partly his fault “for not having realised the consequences of what was going to happen”.

But “there are some people in a position where it wasn’t so straightforward to convert your licence,” he notes.

This was true for another reader, who wished to remain anonymous. She tells us that she tried to begin the conversion of her UK driving licence three times in Imperia, where she lives, but was told to “wait and see what is decided”.

“No one has taken a note of my requests and attempts so I cannot prove my attempts to get this sorted or listed,” she says.

READ ALSO: How to import your car or motorbike to Italy

In her case, it would therefore be difficult to prove that she began the conversion process before January 1st, 2021.

She also faced setbacks when trying to convert her licence in time after applying for residency before Brexit.

On being told that she needed her final ID card (carta d’identità) proving her residence, she returned to her town hall but couldn’t get the card for another seven months due to no appointments being available.

“Then I couldn’t get the licence exchanged as the person dealing with this was not at work on the day I went. I had to fly back to UK then Covid restrictions kicked in, hampering travel and by then UK was out of Europe and the Italian/UK driver’s licence issues remained unsolved,” she added.

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

So is there any hope that an agreement will be reached and those driving on a UK licence won’t need to sit an Italian driving test?

At this point there are no indications as to whether a decision will be reached either way. The British government continues to advise licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while also stating that they’re working on reaching a deal.

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.”

So far, so much conflicting advice, as many readers point out.

Of those who have decided to take the plunge and sit the Italian driving test, some say it’s “not as difficult as it sounds” while others report having trouble with the highly technical questions in the theory test, not to mention the fact that the test has to be taken in Italian.

If you speak French or German better than Italian, the test may be available in those languages – but not in English.

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

“My question is why can’t you take your driving test in English? Adding it as an option for taking the test would help,” says Njideka Nwachukwu, who moved to Italy in 2019. She failed the theory test and has to try again, at a further cost.

Even if you find taking the test a breeze, the process is known to take around six months – if you pass everything first time – and to set you back hundreds of euros.

At the time of writing, neither Italian nor British government officials have given any indication as to if or when a deal may be reached, or an explanation of why the two countries have not yet been able to reach an agreement.

Nor has any explanation been given as to why this important aspect of life in Italy was never protected under the Withdrawal Agreement in the first place.

When contacted by The Local recently for an update on the situation, the British Embassy in Rome stated: “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.”

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

Thank you to everyone who contacted The Local to tell us how they are affected by this issue, including those we couldn’t feature in this article.

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.

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