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BREXIT: What complications do Brits face in obtaining German residency permits?

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BREXIT: What complications do Brits face in obtaining German residency permits?
Brexit campaigners in Brussels earlier this year. Photo: DPA
16:39 CEST+02:00
With Brexit seemingly on the way, Brits have been trying to secure their futures in Germany. The Local investigated the types of residence permits being earmarked for Britons.

Amid the ongoing Brexit uncertainty and the increasing likelihood of a no-deal departure British people have been applying for a residency permit to try togive them a little more security about their futures. .

But there are vast differences in this process and much depends on where Britons live. 

We contacted the German government to find out the latest information regarding residency permits for Britons who live in Germany.   

Why is it different across Germany?

Because Germany is a federal country power is devolved to individual foreigners/immigration authorities (Ausländerbehörder) so each area carries out the process in a different way.

A spokesman for the Federal Interior, Building and Community Ministry told The Local that these local authorities belong to the Länder (states), and are “not part of the federal administration”.

That means they can do things their own way and do not have to be guided or supervised by the federal government, although they have to stick to federal laws.

As Brexit is not regulated (as yet) in any federal legal way – such as in an act, law or general administrative regulation – there “might occur a number of variations in the practical application of the general rules,” the spokesman told us. 

However he added: “We are prepared and ready to issue relevant guidelines or instruments to further harmonize the handling, should the need to do so arise."

So what does that mean in practice?

It signals that individual foreigners offices can handle things their own way unless the government issues federal guidelines or laws.

READ ALSO: Brexit limbo: How Brits in Germany are trying to secure their futures

Do I need a residence permit right now?

Not by law, because the UK is still in the EU so there is no requirement for a residence title. But Brits will need to think about this – and possibly take action now. The German government and local authorities have already said that all British nationals living in the Bundesrepublik will have to register for a permit in future, regardless of whether Britain leaves with an agreement or not.

British nationals are being urged to check with their local foreigners authorities to find out what the processes are. You can find your local office here and here's a list of authorities that have already published information on Brexit.

For example, Berlin is asking Britons to register now, inviting them for an interview and handing out residence permits. In Bonn and Düsseldorf, Brits can also apply through an online registration process. 

READ ALSO: 'We'll move if they have us': The Brits who want to relocate to Germany as Brexit looms

Some areas have issued letters asking residents to book an appointment with the immigration office, while others are asking British people to fill in a form online. Officials have urged those who receive letters to follow the advice.

Other foreigners authorities are not doing anything at all until Brexit happens.

British people should contact their local Ausländerbehörde. Photo: DPA

The Interior Ministry spokesman acknowledged that some foreigners offices have already started to process applications for residence titles lodged by British citizens. He said some "might even have granted residence titles, in a move to spread the administrative work involved over a larger time-span".

"However, technically, residence titles which have already been issued to British citizens do not have any legal relevance, unless the United Kingdom ceases to be a member state of the European Union and rights during a transition period, as provided for in the (non-ratified) EU-British treaty, do not prevail."

What kind of residence permits (Aufentshaltstitel) are being given to British people in Germany (or might be in future)?

Before we go any further, please take note this is an overview and individual authorities might issue something different. Also, due to the nature of Brexit, which is still up in the air, things are subject to change. But this is what we know up to this point.

In Berlin, we know the Niederlassungserlaubnis (permanent residency or settlement permit) is generally being given out to British residents who have clocked up five years of legal residence in Germany. This permit is normally given out to non-EU citizens under strict conditions, such as having achieved a certain level of language skills.

But for British citizens, it appears they are only required to show proof of their residence in the country and official documents, such as work contracts, health and social contributions, etc. 

Gaining this permit, which is placed in holders' passports, is not the same as gaining Germany citizenship, but it allows people to remain in Germany without restrictions. However, a reader pointed out to The Local that this permit (and others) could lose validity if the holder is absent from Germany for longer time periods.

Those who get it will also have rights to work and study which are largely similar to those of someone with citizenship. 

So it provides people with many of the rights of citizenship, but they don't get a German passport or the right to vote in German elections for example.

READ ALSO: How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)

READ ALSO: How to secure permanent residency in Germany

Berlin has also given out the Auftenhalterslaubnis, which is a limited residence permit.

"People who have been living in Germany for less than five years regularly receive an Aufenthaltserlaubnis, if they do not – very exceptionally – qualify for a Niederlassungserlaubnis granted under section 19 of the Residence Act (Aufenthaltsgesetz)," said the Interior Ministry spokesman.

Another non-permanent residence title that may be used by authorities is the Blue Card EU, "which would be issued if certain qualifying prerequisites are met" the spokesman told us.

Those who receive a limited residence permit are usually required to apply for a new permit after a certain amount of time, for example one or two years. 

'Holding permit'

The Fiktionsbescheinigung (fictional certificate) is also being given out in some circumstances.

This is a kind of holding document. The Interior Ministry told us that the fictional certificate is given out when an application for a residence title has been filed.

"Upon filing, a legal 'freeze' of the residence status which the applicant had at the time of filing takes place, so the residence status does not depend on the speed of processing the application by the authority," he said.

That means their current status or permit is extended through this permit until the authority has taken a decision on the application.

The Interior Ministry spokesman said it makes sense to issue this certificate if an "application for a residence title by a British citizen has been filed, but, the legal requirement for issuing the permit which had been applied for has not yet arisen" (for example, if UK is still part of the EU).

A residence permit. Photo: DPA

Are there any other type of permits being given out?

We don't know for sure but, yes, German authorities could choose to issue other permits for British citizens.

Do the permits allow for freedom of movement within Europe?

No. UK citizens will lose their right to onward freedom of movement within the EU after any transition period following Brexit or in the event the UK leaves without a deal.

When it comes to travelling outside Germany, the Interior Ministry told the Local that all residence titles (Niederlassungserlaubnis, Aufenthaltserlaubnis, Blue Card EU, etc) issued by German authorities allow the holder to travel to other Schengen states for 90 days within any timeframe of 180 days.

"Schengen laws do not provide for anything like restricted residence titles which would not allow entry into other Schengen states," he added.

"However, the possibility to travel upon the residence permit does not include the right to work in any state other than the one which had issued the permit (with some very specific exceptions)."

In addition, British people must carry the residence title and the passport with them when crossing an internal Schengen border, and must be able to support themselves during their stay in the other Schengen state, according to authorities.

The spokesman added: "The Fiktionsbescheinigung grants this right only when it 'freezes' an already existing residence title, and not any other status."

What happens if there is a deal?

If the withdrawal agreement comes into force, it will determine the rights of British nationals living in Germany. EU citizens in the UK and British nationals in EU member states and their family members will be able to continue living, working and studying in their host country.

Is there still a chance of a no-deal?

Yes. Technically, if parliament voted through the current Withdrawal Agreement the UK could leave right away. But as the current deal has been rejected three times, that is unlikely to happen so the risk of a no-deal is high.

Boris Johnson, the current favourite to become the next British prime minister, has repeatedly vowed the UK will leave the EU on October 31st regardless of a deal being agreed or not.

A spokesman from the Interior Ministry told The Local that if the Withdrawal Agreement fails to be ratified and there's a no-deal scenario, then British people living in Germany will assume the status of third country nationals.

However, Germany will likely have a nine month transition period after that point for everyone to get hold of the appropriate residency permits.

Boris Johnson on the campaign trail. Photo: DPA

The German government told The Local that Brits in Germany should prepare themselves for all outcomes, just in case.

Axel Dittmann, head of the Brexit Taskforce said even though Germany hopes the Withdrawal Agreement will be passed, a no-deal cannot be ruled out.

“The German government continues to prepare for all Brexit scenarios while waiting for a decision from the United Kingdom," he said. "We are still convinced that the Withdrawal Agreement is the best option for an orderly Brexit. "However, a no-deal scenario can still unfortunately not be excluded."

READ ALSO: Brits' anxiety, residence permits and 'Freundship': Brexit experts talk to The Local

Dittmann urged British residents to get in touch with their local foreigners office to familarize themselves with the system there. 

“We therefore advise all British citizens to prepare also for this scenario," he said. "As Germany is a federal state with the Bundesländer (states) being in charge of questions of residence, there are different systems in place regarding the registration of British citizens with the respective foreigners offices, depending on the number of British citizens in the respective administrative district. 

“Therefore, British citizens should inform themselves about the system applicable to them, through consulting the websites or contacting the foreigners offices directly.”

For more information we recommend visiting the German government's Brexit Q&A section.

We amended this story on July 11th to include the suggestion from a Local reader that permits can lose their validity if holders are absent from Germany for longer periods of time.

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