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DEALING WITH BREXIT

EXPLAINED: What Brits with EU partners need to know about returning to live in UK

While many of the 1.2 million Brits living in the EU have no immediate plans to return to the UK, circumstances can change. For those who have non-British partners heading home on a long-term basis could be more difficult than they imagined. We explain why.

EXPLAINED: What Brits with EU partners need to know about returning to live in UK
Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP

Since Brexit, the UK has a strict immigration policy in place for EU nationals moving to the country and contrary to popular belief, even if they are married to a British national it does not exempt them from those requirements.

So whether you’re planning a move back to the UK with your non-British partner in the near future or whether you just want to keep your options open, here’s what you need to know.

Moving before March 29th 2022

If your moving plans are imminent, you should be able to meet the deadline of March 29th 2022, which is an important cut-off point.

Thanks to campaigning groups like British in Europe, the UK government agreed to a grace period for Brits living in the EU to move back and bring their non-British spouses with them.

The March 29th date relates to the UK’s original exit date from the EU, and British in Europe is campaigning for an extension to reflect the several delays before the UK actually left.

This means the process is easier – but it’s still not simple.

First you must apply to the Home Office in the UK for an EU Settled Status Family Permit. This must be done before the move and the EU partner should not enter the UK until they have the permit.

Processing time for these permits vary, some people have reported it has taken several months, while others have had their application rejected and had to begin the lengthy appeals process.

Once you have the permit you can then make the move, and once in the UK the EU partner needs to apply for EU pre-settled status.

This application must be made before March 29th 2022 in order to benefit from the Settled Status system, which is now closed to all other new arrivals from the EU.

The advantage of this system is that the EU partner does not have to satisfy immigration criteria such as financial thresholds.

Moving after March 2022

If you move back to the UK with a non-British partner after March 2022, or you don’t get the application submitted in time, you fall under the new immigration regime.

This means that the EU partner will need a visa to enter the country, and in most cases this needs to be applied for before the move.

Some people think that being married to a Brit means more or less unlimited entry to the UK, but in fact this is not the case and the couple must comply with strict rules including minimum income levels. For people in low-earning professions, or those who are not able to work in the UK, this could effectively bar the non-EU partner from entering the country.

There are essentially two routes – the non-EU partner can apply for a visa in their own right, or the British partner can sponsor their partner for a visa

Own visa

The points-based system that now applies to EU citizens is the same as the system in place for non-EU nationals and essentially requires applications to gain a required level of points by things like earning enough money, having sufficient language skills or having certain skills or qualifications that the UK has a shortage of.

Find our more here.

Sponsored visa

There is also an option for the British partner to sponsor their EU spouse’s visa, but this too has a minimum income requirement.

The Citizens Advice Bureau in the UK lays out the following income thresholds British partners must earn in order to sponsor their EU national spouse.

  • Partner only – minimum of £18,600 a year
  • Partner and children – minimum of £18,600 a year plus £3,800 for the first child and an extra £2,400 for each child after that. The extra income for children only applies if the children do not hold British citizenship or have residence rights in the UK.

Income can come from savings, pensions, rental income or earnings – but only earnings in the UK are taken into account, so if you have a salary from the EU country where you have been living, this would not be taken into account.

This could also rule out – for example – someone returning to the UK in order to take care of elderly or ill family members, who may not be able to work while taking on caring responsibilities.

If you do not meet the income requirements you can make up the amount through savings, if you have a sufficient amount. This needs to be £16,000 plus an extra £2.50 for every £1 below the income threshold you fall. The savings must have been in your name for six months or more.

If you’re British and don’t have a foreign partner (or you’re willing to dump your partner for the pleasure of living in a country of drizzle and chunky chips) then you can move back at any time without the need for a visa.

Visits

Short visits back to the UK to visit friends or family are allowed, although the non-British partner will need to be aware of new travel rules since the end of the Brexit transition period, including the end of using national ID cards for immigration purposes – only passports are now permitted. The same applies to children.

But longer visits should be approached with caution to ensure that the non-Brit does not exceed their maximum allowed number of days in the country. The 90-day rule applies to EU nationals visiting the UK, but the UK rules allow 180 days together, they don’t need to be divided into two sets of 90 like in the EU.

There are also reports of EU arrivals being grilled by immigration officials on arrival and some people who said they intended to, for example, help with childcare for their family were treated as unauthorised job-seekers and detained, so be sure you are very clear that you do not intend to work while in the UK. 

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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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