While the UK officially left the EU on January 31st, it is still bound by the bloc’s rules during the transition period, which ends on 31st December 2020. This 11-month phase was put in place so that the UK and the EU could negotiate their future relationship, though as discussions have stalled, the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has recently told the country’s businesses to prepare for a no-deal Brexit. With the end of the transition period looming, British citizens have been scrambling to secure passports from other countries in the bloc in order to retain their EU citizenship.
Indeed, 2019 saw a record number of Brits seeking EU passports, with Ireland, Sweden and Malta proving particularly popular. Almost five times as many UK citizens applied for Maltese passports in 2019 than they did during the year before the Brexit referendum. The majority did so through marital or ancestral ties to Maltese citizens, or citizenship by naturalisation, for which they must have been living in Malta for at least four years and be integrated. The country’s citizenship-by-investment scheme was also exceptionally popular, enabling Brits to secure a Maltese passport in return for investing in the country.
While the UK doesn’t actually leave the EU until January 2020, it was still scheduled to do so on three separate occasions during 2019, which likely explains last year’s clamour to secure EU citizenship. But what benefits are there to an EU passport which has led so many Brits to go out of their way to obtain one?
Being an EU citizen enables you to visit other countries within the bloc without a visa. And while UK passport holders won’t require one for short trips to EU countries immediately after the transition period, they will eventually have to pay €7 for an ETIAS (European Travel Information and authorisation System). This is a visa waiver, valid for three years, which will allow unlimited trips into EU countries for stays of up to 90 days. The ETIAS will likely become compulsory for Brits by 2023, and they will likely be denied entry into the Schengen Area without one.
Residential, work and business rights
Having an EU passport also gives individuals the automatic right to reside, work and look for jobs in any of the bloc’s 27 countries. Although UK citizens already working and studying in the EU will almost certainly receive the right to remain, those who aren’t, and don’t have an EU-based passport will need a visa to stay longer than 90 days. These can be very expensive and difficult to secure, and many employers in EU countries prefer to work with EU citizens to avoid going through this process. Similarly, those wishing to set up a business within the EU will also have more hoops to jump through.
The ability to study freely within the bloc is another reason why so many Brits are attempting to secure an EU passport before the transition period ends. Being an EU citizen gives you the right to study in any of the bloc’s member states and, in a lot of countries, pay the same tuition fees as domestic students. Considering these can be a lot cheaper than those paid by students in the UK, it’s no surprise that tens of thousands of Brits decide to study in the EU each year. However, once the transition period ends, they will be treated as international students in EU countries, and have to pay the fees to match, which can be significantly more expensive than those paid by domestic students. In addition, no longer being a EU citizen may leave Brits without access to EU education initiatives, such as the Erasmus student exchange programme.
Under EU law, EU citizens are entitled to a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), giving them reciprocal healthcare while in any of the bloc’s member states, provided the care is necessary or the individual has a chronic, pre-existing condition which requires treatment. However, after 31st December, a UK citizen’s EHIC will no longer be valid, meaning they will have to buy health insurance before they travel. Similarly, after the transition period, Brits won’t be able to drive in EU countries using their existing UK driving licences, and will have to apply for an international driving permit (IDP) to do so.
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