'They're fleeing Brexit': More Brits moving to Germany despite uncertainty
If Brexit is meant to make it harder for Brits to settle in the EU, then Berlin doesn’t seem to have read the script.
The number of Brits resident in the German capital rose sharply this year to 15,898, according to official statistics, making Berlin host to the largest British community in Germany. The number has risen by more than 40 per cent since December 2016, according to data from Berlin and Brandenburg’s Office of Statistics (Afs).
“Berlin is a fashionable place to turn up and try your luck,” Daniel Tetlow, co-founder of British in Germany, told The Local. The journalist and activist speculates that most of the Brits who recently registered in Berlin are new arrivals, as opposed to people who may have come out of local obscurity.
“Many are Brits who have fled the main British cities, they are fleeing Brexit,” speculates Tetlow, based on information gathered from events with British expatriates, hosted in recent months by British in Germany.
“The reasons why people come to Berlin are of course varied. But especially young Brits come here mostly for lifestyle reasons. They want a new start, a new challenge,” Melanie Neumann, a doctorate student at the Centre for British Studies of Humboldt University, told The Local.
A looming deadline
As the March 30th Brexit deadline looms uncertain, many Brits are moving to ensure better access to jobs and rights in the EU post-Brexit. “The British community has one of the highest working populations. More than 90 per cent of Brits in Germany are of working age,” adds Tetlow.
A spokeswoman for the local statistics office, which updates the calculations for the number of resident Brits every six months, told The Local the next census is due in February 2019.
Not only have many Brits moved to Germany before Brexit with a view to strengthening their right to remain after, the number of Brits applying for German citizenship has soared in the last two years.
In 2016 and 2017 combined, 10,338 Brits across Germany obtained German citizenship, more than twice as many as in the previous 15 years, according to data from German statistics office Destatis.
And if the latest figures from a single district in Kreuzberg are any reflection of the broader, national trend, the number of Brits becoming German is set to increase again in 2018.
From January 1st to October 31st 2018 alone, 87 Brits obtained German citizenship in the popular Berlin district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Sara Luehmann, a spokeswoman for the council’s media team, told The Local. That is 31 more German passports given to Brits than the total in 2017.
The latest figures from Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, when added to the total number of Brits who obtained German citizenship in the last two years in Berlin (733), means nearly 1,000 Brits in Berlin alone have acquired German citizenship since the Brexit referendum.
Brits in the rest of Germany
If many of Berlin’s Brits were enticed by lifestyle and culture to make the move, Germany’s second largest community of Brits in North Rhine-Westphalia moved mainly for business and military reasons. The history of the British military contingency in the 1950s and 1960s has given rise to a ‘little England’ in pockets of western Germany, such as Paderborn.
“Many have established their lives and families and wish to remain in Germany as civilians,” says Tetlow from British in Germany, which has an affiliate grouping in Paderborn, as well Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt, Bonn, Stuttgart and Munich.
Some of Britain’s 6,800 service personnel in Germany are in four British army barracks in Paderborn that host thousands of soldiers who are due to return to the UK as of 2019. Around 700 Brits linked to service personnel, including 200 soldiers, are set to remain in Paderborn.
In Hamburg, official statistics show that the British community shrunk by more than 6 per cent to just over 4,000 residents in 2017. The northern port city is Germany’s most-exposed to Brexit, according to a 2018 report by the European Committee of the Regions.
The British government is yet to say whether it will offer any support to its citizens living in the EU and caught on the front lines of Brexit. German authorities, on the other hand, both at a federal and regional level, have shown empathy towards the plight of Brits in Germany.
“We’re all Berliners.” Those were the words of encouragement uttered by a representative of the Berlin senate at a February 2018 British in Germany event. Berlin has taken a generous approach to granting citizenship to long-term British residents and residency to new British arrivals.
A lil' leeway: The Brexit Transition Act
The federal government has also drafted a ‘Brexit Transition Act’ (Brexit-Übergängsgesetze), which will allow Brits living in Germany to be treated as EU citizens until the end of the transition period in December 2020, and thus continue to apply for German citizenship as EU citizens.
“This would potentially allow thousands more Brits to get dual citizenship,” Tetlow told The Local. “We’re very happy and impressed with the way Germans have supported Brits here.”
Tetlow however emphasizes that the current Withdrawal Agreement does not resolve many vital migration and lifestyle concerns for Brits in Germany. As it stands, Brits will not be able to return to the UK with a non-UK spouse; the rights of British children currently living in the EU to study in the UK in the future remain unclear. Long-term residency in an EU state for Brits is also easily lost according to the Withdrawal Agreement criteria, notes Tetlow.
Freedom of movement and recognition of qualifications remain the two most pressing outstanding issues. British in Europe has produced a series of short films to highlight why freedom of movement is so important to Brits in Europe.
“We moved here in good faith. The decisions we made about our careers, lives and our families were made in light of the rules we moved under. Not some soothsaying future,” Tetlow, said.
Germany’s Brexit Transition Act is dependent on the EU and the UK signing a deal. But could Germany ring-fence citizenship rights in the “unlikely event” – to cite UK governmental technical notices – of a no-deal scenario?
“It’ll likely be adapted if there is a no-deal,” speculates Tetlow. The average working Brit in Germany is a higher-than-average earner – “most Brits are economically active,” adds Tetlow. Destatis statistics show that a household income where these is at least one working Brit is twice as high as an average household income with, for example, one Bulgarian worker.
Brits registered to vote in Germany
If the future is to be a no-deal Brexit, with nothing ring-fenced for citizens, British in Europe wants British voters in the EU – between 1.2 and 3.6 million – to have a say. A total of 116,465 Brits were registered in Germany as of 2017, according to Destatis, Germany’s statistics agency. The average age of Brits in Germany is 45-years-old.
“We are pushing for a People’s Vote,” says Tetlow. “British in Europe came off the fence four to five weeks ago on that issue.”
Should a no-deal scenario unfold, British in Germany and its counterparts have a strategy for the future nonetheless. “If ring-fencing doesn’t happen, we’re negotiating with the German committee that is overseeing the Brexit Transition Law,” adds Tetlow.
British in Germany has held events, often in partnership with the British Embassy in Berlin, throughout the last 18 months to keep citizens updated. Another is planned for December 18th, again in collaboration with the British Embassy in Germany. British in Germany’s website has all details of the group’s activity. There is also a Facebook group.