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Brexit: Why Brits in Italy are being urged to apply for the new biometric ID card now

Obtaining a new electronic ID document could save British nationals in Italy a lot of bureaucratic headaches.

Brexit: Why Brits in Italy are being urged to apply for the new biometric ID card now
Photo: AFP

From January, a new electronic ‘tessera’ or ID card has been made available proving the rights of British nationals resident in Italy – and citizens’ rights campaigners say they “strongly urge” people to apply for it.

“If you don’t, you risk facing serious practical problems,” the British in Italy group warned on Thursday. “It is the best evidence you can get that you are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement.”

READ ALSO: ‘What I learned when I applied for the Brexit residence card for Brits in Italy’

The new biometric ‘tessera’, officially called a carta di soggiorno, is available to British citizens who were legally in Italy before December 31st 2020.

While several readers told The Local they experienced problems trying to get the card last month, British in Italy said: “it seems that most Questure have got their act together, so there is no need to hold back any longer. Our advice is to apply now.”

The urgency is partly because “in some areas there are long delays in getting an appointment,” the group said.

However, some of Italy’s British residents have also reported problems with bureaucracy and in accessing certain services.

According to British in Italy, “without the new carta di soggiorno some people have not been able to:

  • Renew a tessera sanitaria;
  • Get an employment contract or enter a bando di gara for a job;
  • Get benefits;
  • Complete the purchase of a house.”

“If you leave Italy you might have your passport wrongly stamped at a border if you do not produce the carta di soggiorno,” British in Italy added.

Amid confusion about the various documents issued by Italian authorities, “the WA attestazione that many of us obtained from our Comune last year is not always being accepted as the necessary proof that we are covered by the WA.”

DEALING WITH BREXIT:

“As a matter of strict law none of these problems should be happening,” British in Italy explained. “As long as you were resident in Italy by December 31st, you are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement and should have all the rights it confers.”

“But knowing that you are in the right is not much consolation if the computer (or an official) says no.”

British in Italy noted that people should however make their own decision on the timing of applications, with regards to the Covid situation and any restrictions in their local area.

How do I get the new carta di soggiorno?

You’ll need to make an appointment at your local Questura, or police headquarters. Check your local Questura‘s website for details, as the process varies from one place to another.

The Italian Interior Ministry has given full details of the application procedure in English here and Italian here.

What’s the difference between this and my existing Italian residency card?

The biometric carta di soggiorno is a new document, and it’s not the same as any other residency documents despite several of them having similar names.

You do not have to exchange your existing Italian ID card.

Is it mandatory to get the new biometric ID card?

“For those already registered in Italy there is no legal requirement to obtain the new card. It is not mandatory,” a British Embassy spokesperson stated.

However the Embassy is urging British nationals to get the card “as it provides the clearest evidence of your rights under the Withdrawal Agreement in a high-security and simple format.”

“For example, it will provide a simple way of evidencing your rights at the border or when accessing services in Italy.”

“However, if you are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement your rights do not depend on holding it and local providers cannot require you to have it.”

Anyone who faces difficulties in accessing healthcare or benefits is advised to contact the British Embassy via their Living in Italy website. You can also find more information on the British in Italy website.

See The Local’s Dealing with Brexit section for more updates.

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BREXIT

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”

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