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Brexit limbo: How Brits across Germany are trying to secure their futures

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Brexit limbo: How Brits across Germany are trying to secure their futures
Callum Jackson and his partner Steffi. Photo courtesy of Callum Jackson.
15:40 CEST+02:00
Brits across Germany want to guarantee they can stay after Brexit. But the process of getting permits varies hugely across the country.

When Callum Jackson received an official letter in the post from the Magdeburg authorities asking him for documents such as his qualifications, work contracts and insurance statements, he was, understandably, a little unnerved. 

But the 29-year-old, who is from the East Midlands in England and has lived in Germany for four years, felt some relief when he attended the interview to get a residence permit at his local Ausländerbehörde (foreigners office). That's because the whole thing was over in just 10 minutes.

“To be fair I can't really fault the whole experience,” Jackson told The Local. 

Yet many questions remain unanswered. Jackson is one of more than 117,225 British people living in Germany, whose lives have been affected by the UK’s plans to leave the EU. 

As we’ve reported, Germany has said no British person will have to leave the country as a result of Brexit. However, to guarantee their future in the Bundesrepublik, Brits have to apply for a residence permit from their local Ausländerbehörde – and that’s the case whether a deal is in place or not. 

But the processes, which can be daunting, vary hugely across Germany, a country of 16 states and hundreds of foreigners authorities.  Some places, like Berlin, have been proactively asking Brits to register and then inviting them for appointments. Others have been sending letters out to residents asking them for interviews. Some do not plan to take any action until after the UK officially leaves the EU.

The current Brexit leaving date is October 31st, unless a deal is struck before then in which case the UK can leave earlier.  

READ ALSO: How Brits in Germany should make the most of the Brexit delay

'Complete nightmare'

When we reached out to Brits to find out their experiences of applying for residence permits, there was a wide variety of comments.

An Ausländerbehörde office in Lower Saxony. Photo: DPA

In the British in Germany Facebook group where The Local asked people to share their thoughts, one person in Paderborn, North-Rhine Westphalia, called the process of applying for a residence permit a “complete nightmare” adding that they had instead decided to apply for citizenship.

Another Brit in Munich said the Ausländerbehörde had told him they're not doing interviews for residence permits there at the moment, while in Unterallgau, also in Bavaria, authorities are not doing anything at all until Brexit happens, one person reported. 

In Passau, authorities want to wait and see if there's a deal or no deal because "if they gave out papers now allowing people to stay, they might be invalid later," reported a Briton there.

Meanwhile, a Brit in Hamburg said residents there were waiting for news from authorities, while another said it was a similar picture in Stuttgart.

'Tone was cold'

At the end of February, Jackson, a sales assistant and former language teaching assistant, received the letter from Magdeburg authorities asking him to come in for a meeting.

“The tone of the letter was a bit cold and they wanted a lot of information and documents about me,” Jackson said. 

He noticed how different the experiences are for Brits depending on where they live in Germany. “I remember seeing a similar letter sent to a British citizen in Frankfurt on the British in Germany Facebook group. Theirs was written in English with very reassuring language,” he said.

When he turned up to his appointment in early April, Jackson’s documents were checked, his fingerprints  taken and the interviewer typed up several forms. 

“It was over within 10 minutes and the whole thing took place more or less in silence,” he said. “At the end, I was given a one-year temporary residence permit that had obviously been printed in advance.”

Jackson was given a Fiktionsbescheinigung (fictional certificate), a document that acts as a holding permit or extension until an actual permit is issued.

A woman getting her finger prints taken at the Ausländerbehörde in Dresden. Photo: DPA

The temporary residence permit lasts until next spring. “The staff who interviewed me do not know what will happen when this expires," he added. 

Jackson, like many others, saved up money to come and live in Germany and has now settled here with his partner. But Brexit has thrown things up in the air.

“The unnerving part of the whole thing isn't how I'm being treated by the German or Saxony-Anhalt government – which is, to be honest, quite well and mostly with indifference – but the uncertainty surrounding everything,” he said. “ I am assuming Britain will indeed leave the EU in October, and that I will have to repeat this process next year.”

He is concerned about meeting government criteria and about being able to visit his family in the UK in future.

“I am sure there won't be any insurmountable problems, but I can't say I like the idea of a wedge driven between us,” he said.

Jackson’s worries are not unusual – the uncertainty is something troubling many Brits we’ve spoken to. Adding to that is the different systems in place across Germany. 

The Local understands that British residents with more than five years of legal residency clocked up in Germany are likely to receive permanent residency.

Those with less (for example two or three years) will likely receive a limited permit, while some people could receive a holding permit until a permanent solution is found (for example, until they are qualified to receive a permanent residence permit).

However, individual foreigners offices may handle things differently. 

EXPLAINED: How to secure permanent residency in Germany

'I wanted security'

Many British people have also been applying for citizenship. British citizens who have submitted an application for a German passport before Brexit will be able to keep their British passport (get dual citizenship) even if the application for naturalization is decided after this date.

One of those was Richard Ross, a university lecturer who has lived in Hanover since 2011.

Motivated by the UK’s plan to leave the EU, Ross, 46, had applied for a residence permit last year. 

“Very much the primary motivator was Brexit,” he told The Local.

Ross, who’s originally from south-east England, received the Erlaubnis zum Daueraufenthalt-EU (long-term EU residence permit) at the end of last year. 

“I asked what happens if I stop being an EU citizen, does the card void? Staff didn’t know,” he said. 

Ross decided to go a step further and apply for citizenship at the start of the year.  Along with ID documents and proof of time in Germany, Ross did a German course and got a letter from his rugby club to show he had integrated in Germany. 

It paid off. 

Some Brits want to get a German passport. Photo: DPA

“I had my ceremony at the beginning of May,” said Ross, who now has a German and British passport.

Ross, who lives with his German partner and son, has been watching the Brexit situation closely in Germany and in his area in particular. 

“The Hanover authorities are trying to get people to conform as much as possible,” he said. 

“They’re being friendly but if your situation lies outside the box they don’t seem to offer much wriggle room, at least that’s my experience.”

Ross acknowledges that the government has said no one will be asked to leave Germany, but he believes there are no guarantees.

 “I did what I did because I wanted security,” he said.

"As I see it British people are guests in the country. If you’re not an EU citizen you won’t have an automatic right to stay and live, at least not from the law. That scared me to death a little bit."

'Variable picture across Germany'

Matt Bristow, from the citizens’ rights group British in Germany (BiG), told The Local the group was watching the situation closely. 

"The current picture across Germany is still very variable," he said. "We know that some areas have already begun issuing third country national residence permits to British citizens, whilst many are waiting until there the political situation becomes clear and the UK leaves the EU before starting to process applications."
 
Bristow added that BiG had heard from its members "about experiences of local officials having had false information or applying rules incorrectly".
 
He added: "If someone is having trouble with their local authority recognizing their rights, we recommend they get in touch with the British Embassy, who have a small, dedicated team dealing with citizens’ rights."
 
Bristow said it was important to remember that while the UK is still in the EU, Brits still have all their EU rights.
 
Any future rules on rights "will apply to the whole of Germany rather being decided state by state," he added, urging Britons to check out BiG's no-deal checklist for ideas on how to prepare for every scenario. 

In the case of a "nightmarish" no-deal scenario, Bristow pointed out that the German government had already passed legislation that would "protect some of our existing rights".

"However, this is essentially the bare minimum necessary to deal with what would happen on labour, education, health, social affairs and citizenship in a no deal scenario," he added.  "It does not deal with residence and all of the associated rights."
 
Bristow said the group is calling on the German government - and other member states - to ring-fence citizens' rights to prevent ordinary people "being made to pay the price for the recklessness of Brexiteers advocating leaving the EU without a deal".
 
Stay tuned for more articles on Brexit, residence permits and the Brits who've received them in Berlin.
 
Are you a Briton living in Germany who's affected by Brexit? Do you want to share your story or get something off your chest? Email news@thelocal.de and we will get back to you. 
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