Germany is planning to extend the grace period for Britons living in Germany in the event of a no-deal Brexit from three months to a total of nine months (until the end of 2019) as uncertainty continues, The Local can reveal.
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The move is one of the measures being put in place by authorities to prepare for all scenarios and to cushion the effects of the UK leaving the EU on UK nationals in Germany.
The Local put questions to Sir Sebastian Wood, the British Ambassador to Germany, and Axel Dittmann, Director for EU Institutional Affairs, Brexit and EU Coordination at the German Federal Foreign Office.
In the first part of our interview, they discuss how British people in Germany can prepare for Brexit as well as citizens' rights and travelling in and out of the country after Brexit. The second part of the interview will be published next week.
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Safeguarding rights is priority
As uncertainty continues to surround how Britain will leave the EU, Sir Sebastian told The Local the UK government “does not want or expect to leave without a deal”.
Both sides were keen to stress that safeguarding rights of Brits who had set up lives in Germany (and for EU nationals in the UK) was a priority.
“Protecting citizens’ rights was and still is the first priority for us,” Dittmann told The Local.
“We will protect our fellow British citizens who, on the basis of these (EU) rights, have built their lives here in Germany.”
Brexit protesters in London earlier this month. Photo: DPA
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Dittmann added that a withdrawal agreement would be the best protection for the rights of Britons in Germany.
He said it would “contain comprehensive guarantees for British citizens living in the EU”.
However, “all relevant ministries” in Germany are preparing “protection measures” in case the UK leaves the EU without a deal in place.
“Our very clear political objective is to ensure that all British citizens living in Germany can continue to live, work and study here,” he said.
“No British would have to leave Germany as a result of Brexit, including pensioners and welfare recipients.”
To give Britons as well as authorities more time to prepare, he revealed that Germany is planning to extend the grace or transitional period in the case of a no-deal Brexit.
“The federal government is planning a transitional period of up to nine months (initially three months) during which the British can continue to live and work in Germany as before without further decisions needed by immigration authorities,” he said.
“With the approval of the Bundesrat (the legislative council that represents the 16 states), the Federal Government intends to extend the transitional period of initially three months by a further six months.”
During this grace period, all British citizens have the right to stay in Germany.
“If this right of residence has so far provided access to social benefits, this access will be upheld,” said Dittmann. “Previous access rights to health and long-term care insurance also will continue to apply.”
Dittmann said this temporary exemption from the requirement of a residence permit means that “any activity as an employed or self-employed person is still permitted in this transitional period”.
“In particular, they may exercise any employment irrespective of the employer's registered office and without the approval of the Federal Employment Agency,” he added.
In order to stay in Germany after the grace period, however, Dittmann said all British citizens are being asked to submit an application for their future residence title.
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How should Brits prepare?
Sir Sebastian said UK nationals in Germany can take some “practical steps now for prepare for EU Exit”.
Sir Sebastian Wood. Photo: DPA
“The German government has confirmed that in all scenarios, UK nationals living in Germany will need to apply for a residence permit from their local Foreigners Authority (Ausländerbehörde), for which you will need a valid UK passport,” he said.
Britons will have until the end of the transitional period in place to apply for this.
“UK nationals living in Germany should also be aware that – if the UK leaves without a deal – you will need at least 6 months remaining on your passport to travel within the EU. You will also need to exchange your UK driving licence for a German one,” said Sir Sebastian.
Dittmann added that his personal advice was to “check if your paperwork is complete and up to date”.
“This means that you should check if you have all relevant personal documents and that nothing has expired. Most important of all: register at the competent German registration office (Meldebehörde) as soon as possible.”
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Travelling after Brexit
Sir Sebastian said the European Commission has proposed that the UK is placed on its list of visa-free countries, “which would mean that UK nationals would not need a visa for short visits – whether for tourism or business”.
“For stays longer than 90 in every 180 days, this will depend on the approach taken by the EU and individual Member States. The FCO’s (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) travel advice page provides the most up-to-date information on entry requirements for travellers, and will be updated regularly.”
Some British people living in Germany had raised concerns about travelling to and from Germany if a no-deal Brexit happens.
Dittmann said British people can come back into Germany if they leave but advised there may be delays.
“British citizens living in Germany can re-enter when travelling, also in case of a no-deal,” he said.
“However, we ask for your understanding that delays and inconveniences may occur at the German border due to Brexit.
“Third-country nationals are subject to stricter inspection requirements than the entry of Union (EU) citizens. We therefore recommend calculating delays when travelling. In order to facilitate border control.”
He also advised carrying extra documentation.
“We further recommend that you carry documents to substantiate your previous long-term stay in Germany, e.g. residence cards and certificates of permanent residence under the Freedom of Movement Act, certificate of registration, employment or rental contract, etc.”
When it comes to qualifications, both Dittmann and Sir Sebastian said any qualifications which have already been recognized by Germany will remain valid after the UK leaves the EU.
“If you have UK qualifications that have not yet been recognised by Germany, the Commission advises that you start the recognition process before Exit Day,” said Sir Sebastian.
Dittmann said British students who are currently studying in Germany can continue their studies here, however they also need to apply for residence permits within the transitional period.
“Students and trainees who are abroad participating in Erasmus+ at the time of the UK’s withdrawal can complete their studies and continue to receive the relevant funding or grants,” added Dittmann.
Meanwhile, Sir Sebastian said: “In a ‘no-deal’ Brexit scenario, if you are a student or trainee receiving a support loan in Germany (called BAföG) you can still receive the loan until the end of the course, as long as it started before Exit Day.”
Residency and citizenship
When asked if people who’ve been here longer than five years will receive permanent residency and what status others will receive, Sir Sebastian said this was a matter for the German authorities.
“The Commission has called on member states to take a generous approach to the rights of UK citizens who are already resident in their territory, so we hope that those who have been living in Germany will receive permanent residency, but as I said the ultimate decision will lie with the German authorities,” he said.
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“The UK government has confirmed that any EU citizens living in the UK before exit day will be able to stay and that those with five years continuous residence will be entitled to settled status, the equivalence of permanent residence,” added Sir Sebastian. “Therefore, we call on Germany to reciprocate the UK’s offer.”
When it comes to citizenship, Dittmann said British citizens who have submitted an application for a German passport before Brexit will be able to keep their British passport, “even if the application for naturalization is decided after this date”.
German and British passports. Photo: DPA
Meanwhile, on the issue of healthcare Sir Sebastian told The Local that options to protect reciprocal healthcare arrangements in the unlikely event of a 'no deal' scenario, were being explored and that he was in close contact with the German authorities on this matter.
“However, in the absence of any agreement, the S1 arrangements would no longer be in place after exit day,” he added.
“Germany plans a three month transition period during which UK nationals whose healthcare is currently covered via the S1 route could join a German health provider. Interested individuals should contact their German health insurance provider for further information.”
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What lies ahead?
Looking ahead to the future after the transitional period, German authorities cannot say what the process will be for British citizens.
Dittmann said this issue “will be addressed in the framework of the future bilateral relationship and the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom”.
You can find more information, and keep up to date with any developments, by subscribing to the Living in Germany Guide on the UK government website.
Visit the German government website for further general information.
For more information about qualification recognition this is a helpful German website.
If you are receiving BAfög, the German student and trainee loan, you find information on this website.
For more information on German citizenship visit this website.
The British embassy recommends reading UK nationals in the EU: essential information, attending one of the embassy's citizens outreach meeting and following your local British Embassy on Facebook and Twitter.