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BREXIT

Brits with EU partners warned over future problems returning to live in UK

Of the roughly one million British nationals living in the EU, many of them have a non-British spouse or partner. These people are now being warned of problems ahead should they ever decide to return to the UK to live.

Brits with EU partners warned over future problems returning to live in UK
Photo: Ben Fathers/AFP

For some it’s the reason they moved abroad in the first place, while others simply met a handsome local in their new home and fell in love.

Either way, of the estimated 1.2 million Brits who live in EU countries, a significant number have met and settled down with partners from the country where they live or another non-British nationality.

While most Brits living abroad have managed to secure their residency rights since Brexit, they could face a whole different set of problems if they ever want to return to the UK and take their spouse or partner with them.

Under rules agreed as part of the Brexit negotiations, Brits can move back to the UK without their European partners needing costly visas as long as they do so before March 29th next year. 

But despite assurances given by the British government, the citizens’ rights campaign group British in Europe is warning that it is already seeing problems with the system, despite the deadline still being six months away.

The system

Since the end of the Brexit transition period, EU nationals who want to move to the UK face a tough immigration process which has strict requirements including a minimum level of English and financial requirements.

Simply being married or in a civil partnership with a UK national does not remove these obligations.

What is in place, however, is an extended grace period in which UK nationals who moved abroad before Brexit can return to their home country and bring their EU spouse with them, as long as they do it before March 2022. 

The problems

This system was not ideal and has left people facing tough choices. Even returning for a relatively short period, for example to care for an elderly parent back in the UK, can leave people facing a choice between their partner and their family.

Others may have no immediate plans to return to the UK, but may have considered it as a long-term option – now they have to either move back before March 2022 or face the prospect that moving back in future might not be impossible.

However now British in Europe is warning that even the system set up to process applications during the post-Brexit grace period is not working as it should.

EU nationals moving to the UK as the spouse of a British person have until March 29th 2022 to apply for Settled Status.

However, before they can apply they need to obtain a new EU family permit from the Home Office in the UK.

And British in Europe is warning that the Home Office is turning down some of these applications, often on seemingly flimsy or technical grounds.

Appealing against this can be a lengthy process, leaving some people who have already applied worried about missing the March deadline.

British in Europe’s Co-Chair Jane Golding said: “We are worried that there are many families across the EU who do not understand the implications of stringent immigration rules now applying to UK citizens in the EU.

“Many of us have older relatives in the UK who may need our care, or we had always planned to retire to the UK to be near family.

“The grace period given until the end of March 2022 is simply not long enough for families to make decisions to uproot and then arrange to return to the UK. We continue to lobby for a longer grace period.

“Families considering a move now need to be aware that the process is time-consuming and complex and that non-UK family members will first need to apply for a EU Settled Status family permit from outside the UK before the end of March 2022, and only when they have that and move to the UK will they be able to apply for EU pre-settled status.”

Member comments

    1. These rules always applied to spouses from third countries when UK was in the EU. Now the EU is just 27 third countries as far as UK immigration is concerned. They are a lot more lenient when it comes to ham sandwiches though.

  1. I assume this eternal Brexit cruelty also extends to future relationships between single UK citizens living in Europe that don’t even exist yet? So, I now have to be careful about the nationality of any new partner I might wish to meet, fall in love with and marry?

  2. This is appalling, given the unfettered illegal immigration happing in the UK at the moment.
    The UK is happy to accept future terrorists in rubber dinghies, but reject perfectly decent and respectable people just because they happen to be born outside the UK. Yet another example, if one were needed, of the irrational, clueless policy making by Johnson’s so called government.

    1. Migrants fleeing war and persecution and then legally gaining asylum are not “future terrorists in rubber dinghies”. I would rather have 100 of them in my neighbourhood than 1 racist, ignorant troll such as yourself.

      1. Thank for your comment. I find those with no rational argument always resort to abuse, as you have so eloquently proved.
        However, if you are so passionate about the legitimacy of the channel migrants, genuinely fleeing war and persecution, can you please explain to me:
        1. Why they do not settle in the first country that they reach?
        2. Why, according to Home Office figures, 98% of all channel migrants are male aged between 14 and 40. Where are the woman and children? For some reason they are obviously less eager to flee than their male compatriots. Please explain why that might be.

        1. 1. Bless you Tony, if you think that was abuse

          2. You literally said refugees were future terrorists – that is both racist and ignorant (as well as a good few other ‘abusive’ terms that spring to mind)

          3. There are so many painfully obvious reasons which are a quick Google away that I am not going to waste my time going into them here. But something tells me you aren’t interested in knowing or understanding, but rather looking to spew hate on a completely unrelated and innocent article, so I don’t see any point in continuing this conversation.

          1. Agree, equating refugees with terrorists is disingenuous at best and at worst feeds into the leftist narrative that all right wingers (now a slur) are white supremacists.

  3. Great article, thanks! But think this should read ‘now’ rather than ‘not’: now they have to either move back before March 2022 or face the prospect that moving back in future might not be impossible.

  4. Agreed with the above comment. We can not classify all migrants as potential terrorists. But, my main concern is that uncontrolled immigration can and will likely lead to the rise of right wing fascist groups in those countries that allow this. One only has to look at the USA and Donald Trump to see where this can go in a country once considered to be the beacon of democracy and I think many of us can agree that it’s not pretty.

  5. I have a friend in this very situation, the family has moved back to the UK while his Dutch wife is staying with friends. He was told 8-12 weeks (I think) but it’s looking closer to 8-12 months assuming she isn’t rejected.

  6. As I understand it, the deadline set for end of March 2022 only applies to those partners who were already in a relationship on Brexit day. So tough luck to those who find new partners.

  7. Gentlemen, let’s please have a civilized discussion here. I have never imagined that this is a place to verbally abuse anyone or call to task anyone’s personal opinions. We are all very opinionated people, that is clear. But one thing that is increasingly happening in the world is that we are expressing these opinions without regard to anything other than our own personal needs. Social media has allowed this abnormal process to live and thrive. There are other venues to use to express oneself in a critical way. This, however, is not a place for malice towards anyone. Thank you.

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BREXIT

‘So stressful’: How Italy-UK driving licence fiasco threatens couple’s Tuscan dream

One couple from Manchester found the home of their Tuscan retirement dreams, but the stalemate over a UK-Italy driving licence agreement is throwing their future into question.

'So stressful': How Italy-UK driving licence fiasco threatens couple's Tuscan dream

Iain and Lynn Gosling lived and worked all their lives in and around Manchester – at a bank, where they met, then in various schools – but had always dreamed of retiring in Tuscany.

In 2018, with the Brexit clock ticking, they decided to take the plunge, and after a lengthy Place in the Sun-style hunt, they finally found their ideal home.

The podere (farmhouse) they chose just outside the town of Pomerance, in the province of Pisa, checked all their boxes: it had an olive grove, was close enough to the beach, had a friendly local community, and the town was particularly invested in green energy, sourcing most of its power from renewables.

Most importantly, it was just over an hour’s drive from Pisa airport, meaning they could regularly go back and visit family in the UK.

READ ALSO: ‘We bought the cheapest house in Piedmont and live mortgage free’

“We’d holidayed in Tuscany for 20 years, and the views and everything were even better than where we’d been holidaying. So we kind of thought we struck gold really,” says Lynn.

“When we saw it, we just knew, and when we went into the town it was such a good, welcoming feeling.”

Iain and Lynn's podere in Pomerance.

Iain and Lynn’s podere in Pomerance. Source: Iain Gosling.

The couple began building a new life, learning Italian and befriending local residents. They were careful to take the necessary steps to secure their future in Italy before the Brexit deadline, registering with the town hall and later obtaining carta di soggiorno residency cards.

But – like many other British nationals in Italy – the pair didn’t anticipate that almost two years on from Brexit, negotiations for a reciprocal driving licence agreement between the two countries would have stalled. It’s an ongoing state of limbo that threatens to make their retirement dream unworkable.

While with hindsight the pair would have exchanged their driving licences before the Brexit deadline, they believed a deal would soon be reached – especially as the UK allows EU licence-holders to drive with almost no restrictions.

“If we cannot drive in the short term, I’m sure we can find a way round it somehow,” says Iain. “Longer term? No, not really.”

READ ALSO: Do you have to take Italy’s driving test in Italian?

A 12-month grace period granted in 2021 is due to expire in January unless an agreement is reached, forcing UK drivers to choose between taking an Italian driving exam that could well turn out to be unnecessary, or gambling on a last-minute deal that risks leaving them without a valid licence if it doesn’t materialise.

For Iain and Lynn, who live a four-minute drive from the town on hilly country roads without access to public transport or pavements, it doesn’t feel like much of a choice.

“I’d be absolutely lost without driving,” says Lynn, who judges that without a car the couple would have to make daily hour-long round walks into town to buy basic necessities.

They decided that Iain would take the exam so that at least one of them would still be able to drive in the absence of a deal, and booked his theory test for November to give him time to prepare.

As a minimum of 32 days must pass between passing the theory test and sitting the practical exam, he’ll only just secure his Italian licence in time in the event that there’s no agreement – if he manages to pass both on the first go.

READ ALSO: Some of the best learner sites for taking your Italian driving test

Iain and Lynn outside their Tuscan farmhouse.

Iain and Lynn outside their Tuscan farmhouse. Source: Iain Gosling.

“So – no pressure on the theory test,” says Iain, who plans to fly back early from Christmas holidays in the UK to sit his practical exam if he succeeds in passing the former.

The couple know they could have begun the process earlier. But the test requires answering the same theory questions as a native Italian speaker and a taking mandatory six hours of practical lessons, and it isn’t cheap – Iain and Lynn estimate the total cost to be just under €1,000.

What’s more, those who pass an Italian driving test are classed as new drivers (neopatentati) for three years, which comes with a range of restrictions on speed limits and vehicle engine size, and a zero tolerance policy on alcohol.

READ ALSO: Driving licences: Are the UK and Italy any closer to reaching an agreement?

All this has made taking the test a last resort for people who believed the UK and Italian governments would have reached an agreement by this point – or have at least issued clear guidance as to what action UK licence-holders should take.

The UK’s ambassador to Italy stresses that negotiations continue – though has encouraged British residents to book an Italian driving test.

A spokesperson for the British Embassy in Rome told The Local in October: “Since August we have continued and intensified further our work with our Italian colleagues and have made progress towards our shared objective.”

Lynn says: “Over the last six months it was very optimistic, everything we were hearing. It’s just in the past two months that we’ve thought, well, wait a minute.”

If Iain doesn’t manage to pass the test before the deadline and no deal is reached, “we are stuck,” he says.

“This situation is so stressful.”

READ ALSO: How UK drivers in Italy face new problems after passing Italian driving test

The couple fear that without the ability to drive, their current lifestyle would be unsustainable.

“You wake up thinking about it, and you go to bed thinking about it,” says Lynn. “Anxiety, that’s how it makes you feel.”

“Someone will turn around and say, well why didn’t you take your driving tests 12 months ago so you’re not in this situation?” says Iain. “But if all the signs were encouraging from the ambassador, we thought well OK, we can keep our benefits here and we don’t want to lose them.”

While the embassy insists that negotiating the agreement is its top priority, Iain worries that the recent political upheaval in both the UK and Italy has pushed the issue on to the back burner.

“We have no choice but to have faith in our British representatives to deliver and soon too, because the previous regulation extension was far too late,” Iain says. “We need to know now so we can make definite plans and contingencies.”

Despite the stress, Iain and Lynn are determined to do all they can to find a way to remain in Pomerance, where they say they’ve been embraced by local residents and have become good friends with their Italian neighbours who occupy the other half of their semi-detached property.

“We don’t want to give this up,” says Iain. “We love it here and we want to stay.”

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