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RIGHTS

How long can Brits stay in the UK without losing their EU residency?

The coronavirus pandemic has seen many British nationals resident in the EU return to the UK, but those 'waiting out' Covid-19 back in Britain could lose their rights to live in their host country. Here's what you need to know to make sure you keep your EU residency status.

How long can Brits stay in the UK without losing their EU residency?
Brits waiting out the pandemic in the UK could have trouble returning to their homes in the EU. Photo: Eric Piermont/AFP

Brits living in the European Union who have returned to the UK until Covid-19 subsides are being urged not to stay away from their host country for too long – or they risk losing their rights to residence there, warns citizens’ rights group British in Europe.

READ ALSO: How the Brexit deal has changed daily lives of British residents in Europe

Since Britain left the EU on January 1st 2021, British nationals are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement (WA). This legislation sets out citizens’ rights, providing for entitlements to work, study and access public services and benefits on similar terms to when the UK was part of the EU.

Under this agreement, there is a limit to the amount of time Brits can be away from their host country – that is, the EU country they moved to. How much time you’ve been resident in your host country determines how long you can spend in the UK.

If you have permanent residence under the Withdrawal Agreement, the permitted absence from your EU country is five years. Permanent residence is granted for anyone who has “been living in a Member State continuously and lawfully for five years at the end of the transition period”, according to UK government guidelines.

Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN / AFP

What does continuously mean? The UK government advice is that “individuals will generally have been lawfully residing in their host state for at least six months in any 12-month period”.

That means you’re in the clear if you possess permanent residency under the Withdrawal Agreement. Unless you plan to stay in the UK for several more years from now, you aren’t in danger of losing your residency rights while you’re away.

READ ALSO: Brexit: Anger and frustration for Brits in Italy amid confusion over new biometric ID card

On the other hand, if this doesn’t apply to you and you have ordinary residence instead, the permitted absence is a total of six months in a 12-month period.

This can be extended, however, to “one absence of a maximum of twelve consecutive months for important reasons such as pregnancy and childbirth, serious illness, study or vocational training, or a posting in another Member State or a third country”.

Does Covid-19 count as an important reason?

The Agreement provides for cases of serious illness, so if you caught Covid-19 in the UK, you can argue this is valid for extending the six-month absence to 12 months.

It gets more difficult to define if your individual case falls outside of these allowances. You may personally believe your circumstances warrant staying away for longer than six months: difficulty of travel, looking after an ill relative, your struggling mental health if you return to an apartment to live alone are all good reasons to stay in the UK. However, it’s not clear cut whether this will be accepted and each country will have different rules.

As there are no clear guidelines on which Covid-related reasons would justify an extension, if you have ordinary residence, you could lose your residence rights if you are absent for more than six months.

Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP

It can sometimes be tricky to calculate exactly how long your period of permitted absences is. EU rights service Your Europe Advice may be able to advise on your individual case – you can contact them here.

How can you prove how long you’ve been away from your EU residence?

On returning to your host country – or the EU transit country – you may be asked questions about your residence at the border. You will be required to explain that you haven’t been away from your host country for more than a six-month period, or that you have solid grounds for extending this to 12 months.

“You should, therefore, be ready to provide proof of your periods of absence and, if claiming more than six months’ absence for Covid-related reasons, to provide documentary proof of those reasons,” states British in Europe.

Proof of these absences can be in the form of travel tickets. Meanwhile the group says that any Covid-related documentation will need to be “convincing”. This could include test results and details of treatment.

And of course, you’ll need to prove that you’re resident in your EU country in the first place. Show border guards your residence card if you have one, or if your country doesn’t use them or hasn’t issued yours yet, carry documentation such as property deeds, rental agreements, employment contracts or utility bills that show you’re based there. 

More details and FAQs on UK nationals’ residence rights in the EU can be found on the European Commission’s website here.

READ ALSO:

Member comments

  1. 20.3.2021 Spring Starts!

    Hello,

    If living in the EU then I think the best thing is to apply for Dual nationality. This was possible in Germany, but I am unsure if still available. It will certainly save a lot of problems.

    What do others think about this?

    1. Germany allows British citizens to keep their citizenship when applying for naturalisation as long as the application was submitted and all relevant requirements (length of residence, language level certificate and the citizenship test) were completed before 31 December 2020 – any applications made after that date would require you to renounce your British citizenship before the German authorities will grant you German citizenship. Germany only allows dual nationality with other EU member states or Switzerland, so as the transition period finished on 31 December 2020 so did this possibility.

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BREXIT

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

As UK driving licence holders in Italy still wait for answers regarding another extension or a long-awaited deal for the mutual exchange of British and Italian licences post-Brexit, we look at how the situation compares to that of their counterparts across Europe.

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

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

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

This was then further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

The UK government announced on December 24th, 2021 that British residents of Italy who didn’t convert their UK licence to an Italian one could continue to use it until December 31st, 2022.

That’s the latest official directive from the authorities, with no decision made on what will happen from January 1st, 2023.

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

The latest extension – while providing more time – hasn’t ruled out the need to take the Italian theory and practical driving tests and the clock is ticking again with just over six months left of this grace period.

READ ALSO: How do you take your driving test in Italy?

In fact, the authorities recommend sitting the Italian driving exams whatever the outcome, just in case. The process is known to take months, so UK licence holders find themselves once again taking a gamble on waiting for an accord to be reached or taking the plunge by starting preparations for the tests.

As things stand, 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.”

The Local contacted the British Embassy in Rome to ask for an update on the situation, to which they responded:

“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.”

Presently, the UK’s new ambassador to Italy, Edward Llewellyn, is touring all 20 regions of Italy and no updates on the driving licence have been given in the meantime.

Could there be a deal which sees all UK licence holders in Italy – those who registered their intent to exchange, those who didn’t, those who did register intent but haven’t been able to finalise the process, and future UK licence holders who move to Italy – able to continue using their UK licences in Italy or easily exchange them for Italian ones without having to sit a driving test?

READ ALSO: ‘Anyone can do it’: Why passing your Italian driving test isn’t as difficult as it sounds

It’s still hard to say, as the authorities continue to advise UK licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while stating that the two governments are still working on an agreement.

The embassy’s most recent announcement was a Facebook post in April acknowledging that “many of you are concerned” about the issue.

“We continue to work at pace to reach a long-term agreement with Italy, so that residents can exchange their UK driving licences without taking a test, as Italian licence holders can in the UK,” the embassy stated.

British residents of Italy can use their driving licenses until the end of this year, the government has confirmed.

British residents of Italy can presently use their driving licences until the end of this year. Photo by PACO SERINELLI / AFP

The embassy reiterated the need for UK licence holders to consider the possibility of obtaining an Italian driving licence via a test, stating: “It is important that you currently consider all your options, which may include looking into taking a driving test now.”

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

So is it true that most European nations have reached successful agreements with the UK over reciprocal driving licence recognition and exchange and the Italian deal is lagging behind?

The evidence suggests so.

UK licence exchange agreements across Europe

As things stand, Italy and Spain are the only European countries where licence exchange negotiations are ongoing.

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions, as authorities have still made no decision on exchanging driving licences or reaching a deal.

UK licence holders in Spain are currently in limbo, unable to drive until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

French and British authorities reached a licence exchange agreement in June 2021, considered a generous one for UK licence holders residing in France as those with licences issued before January 1st 2021 can continue using their UK licences in France until either the licence or the photocard nears expiry.

Sweden and the UK reached a deal even earlier in March 2021. British people resident in Sweden can exchange their UK driving licences for an equivalent Swedish one, without needing to take a test, just as they could when the country was a member of the European Union. 

In Portugal, resident UK licence holders can continue to use their valid UK licences until December 31st 2022 but they must exchange their licences for Portuguese ones before that date.

Other EU nations which have decided to allow UK licence holders residing in their countries to swap their driving licences without having to take a driving test include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.   

There are slight variations in the conditions between countries, and some say you “can exchange”, others that you “must exchange” and most encourage UK licence holders to swap “as soon as possible”. In Greece, UK licences continue to be valid without any restrictions or deadlines for exchange.

That leaves Italy and Spain as the two EU/EEA countries where a deal on a straightforward exchange or long-term recognition of UK licences among residents is still hanging in the balance.  

The only question that’s left is why. 

Why are the driving rights of all Britons who resided in Italy before December 31st 2020 not part of the other protected rights they enjoy under the Withdrawal agreement? 

And why is it taking so long to reach an exchange deal?

So far, Italian and British officials have not provided answers to these questions.

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

Are you a British resident in Italy affected by this issue? We’d like to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below this article or email the Italian news team here.

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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