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Phil Russell, a 47-year-old financial services administrator who lives in the western part of Zealand, received notice he must leave Denmark by early next month after missing the deadline to register for a post-Brexit residence permit.
He says the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI) shoulders the blame for the nightmare situation he now finds himself in.
“For the first year of my stay in Denmark, before SIRI’s catastrophic handling of my case, I was very happy indeed and loved the country and the people, who I found to be very friendly and welcoming,” Russell told The Local.
But a demand he leave Denmark after applying four days too late for the residence permit issued to UK nationals after Brexit has left him facing stress and uncertainty.
“It means that you can’t really relax, ever. You can’t take any enjoyment from anything because this is always playing on the back of your mind,” he said.
SIRI sent reminders to UK nationals resident in Denmark to update their residence status under the terms of the Brexit withdrawal agreement prior to a December 31st, 2021 deadline. But Russell did not receive the reminders and eventually discovered he had missed the deadline just four days into January 2022.
He has been told his application has been rejected and that he must leave the country, with his late submission explicitly cited as the reason for the refusal.
After moving to Denmark in October 2020, Russell registered as a resident of Denmark through SIRI under the EU’s right to free movement, which still applied to British citizens at that time.
At the time, he spoke to SIRI staff and was advised that his residency paperwork was correct and he need take no further action.
In accordance with the Withdrawal Agreement between the EU and the UK, British nationals resident in Denmark were required to apply for their residence status to be updated. This was done in several phases during the course of 2021 and SIRI sent three reminders to affected UK nationals in Denmark advising them to submit an application to extend their residency past the deadline of December 31st, 2021.
However, Russell did not receive the reminders from SIRI. He submitted an application immediately after finding out he had missed the deadline.
He received a response from SIRI in May, informing him that his application had been rejected. He appealed this decision with SIRI but the appeal was turned down and he received a letter dated November 7th asking him to leave Denmark by December 6th.
“We have paid importance to the fact that you do not meet the conditions for a residence document in Denmark, as you have not applied for a residence document before 1 January 2022,” SIRI states in the letter, which has been seen by The Local.
“As a consequence of our decision, you also no longer have the right to work in Denmark without a work permit. Therefore we will inform your employer about our decision,” the letter continues.
Deportation for missing a paperwork deadline by four days is against the spirit of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, Russell argues, noting in particular the agreement’s Article 5.
The Article states that the EU and UK must “take all appropriate measures, whether general or particular, to ensure fulfilment of the obligations arising from this Agreement and shall refrain from any measures which could jeopardise the attainment of the objectives of this Agreement.”
“If you look at Article 5 of the withdrawal agreement, it clearly mentions that [authorities] should refrain from taking any kind of actions that would jeopardise the objectives of the agreement, which is to protect the rights of citizens to continue living and working” in their countries of residence after Brexit, he said.
With this in mind, “no rational person could conclude that SIRI are entitled to use their own communications incompetence as a pretext” for deportation, he said.
EU countries were urged not be draconian in their application of the withdrawal agreement.
France, for example, extended its deadline due to high demand and new health restrictions in 2020, and because French authorities were aware many Britons were unlikely to meet the original deadline.
Russell told The Local he has the right to appeal against the decision with the Immigration Appeals Board (Udlændingenævnet). He has eight weeks from the date of SIRI’s decision in which to submit an appeal and has notified authorities that he intends to appeal.
He said he would prefer to wait until the new government – rather than the current caretaker government – is in place before appealing.
His residence and working rights in Denmark are protected while the appeal is ongoing, he said.
Mads Fuglede, a Liberal (Venstre) MP who was the party’s immigration spokesperson during the previous parliament agrees with Russell that the SIRI ruling is not in the spirit of the withdrawal agreement.
“There’s no minister I can get an answer from,” Fuglede told The Local with reference to the current caretaker government.
“But I believe that a minister would have the powers to say to the authority – that is, SIRI – that they should accept late applications,” he said.
In an email to The Local, SIRI noted that the deadline for submission of applications for update residence status after Brexit was “set in the Brexit executive order”.
“It is in the first instance the responsibility of the British citizen and their family members to stay oriented about Brexit, which has also had much publicity,” the agency said.
SIRI said it had sent three information letters to about 19,000 resident British citizens in 2021.
“SIRI can naturally not rule out there being Britons who did not receive the information letters which were part of SIRI’s information campaign,” it said.
In its information request to the agency, The Local asked how many people did not receive the information letters. We also asked whether there had been a technical or other problem which had resulted in them not being received. These questions were not answered directly.
The agency stated that, up to September 30th, it had received 290 applications for post-Brexit continued residency status after the December 31st, 2021 deadline. Some 17,811 applications were received before the deadline.
Decisions on some applications made after the deadline are still being processed, SIRI said, meaning it is not clear how many UK nationals have already or could yet lose their residency rights.
Russell said that SIRI’s decision had no tangible benefit for Denmark, noting that the country was likely to lose tax revenue by deporting settled British residents. Similar rulings in other cases could split families, he said.
“I think they [SIRI] have a mindset where they try to cover up all of their incompetence by bland statements about technical problems,” he said.
“It seems crazy because there’s nothing to benefit Denmark, it just increases costs for Denmark and there’s no real justification for it,” he said.
Russell said he and his Danish partner, Frederikke Sørensen, had canvassed MPs, campaigned and spoken to “anyone who would listen” about his case throughout 2022.
“It’s something that we’ve worked on very hard,” he said.
“If I have to move I would lose my job, my fiancé, my home. It would be the absolute destruction of my life. I just can’t imagine that happening,” he said, adding he will “fight until the bitter end” to have the decision overturned.
“The absurdity of SIRI’s actions are beyond parody,” he said.
He said he remains hopeful that his appeal will be successful, allowing him to continue his life in Denmark.
“My desire to stay and to make a life in Denmark remains undiminished and indeed most of the people helping me to seek justice are Danish. I am committed to my Danish fiancé and to Denmark and I will continue to fight SIRI’s unjust and illegal actions,” he said.