Germany’s no-deal Brexit residency law leaves ‘many questions unanswered’

Campaigners say there is still uncertainty over the rights of British people in Germany – even though the German government has proposed a 'no-deal Brexit residency law'.

Germany's no-deal Brexit residency law leaves 'many questions unanswered'
Archive picture shows the Brexit mural by artist Banksy in Dover, UK. Photo: DPA

Matt Bristow from British in Germany (BiG) told The Local that the group welcomed the “step forward” by the German government to bring in legislation that guarantees all British people and their family members living in Germany will receive residence permits if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal.

Germany has previously said no British person will be forced to leave Germany as a result of Brexit  but the draft law – called the Brexit-Aufenthalts-Überleitungsgesetz (Brexit Residence Transition Act) – goes a step further to provide reassurances to British nationals.

READ ALSO: New law set to guarantee Brits residency in Germany in case of no-deal Brexit

However, Bristow said the full text of the draft law must be viewed to check that it “covers everyone”. The Foreign Office has not yet published the details of the proposed legislation, which has to go through the Bundestag and would only come into force in the event of a no-deal.

The UK's Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly said that he wants to ensure the UK leaves the EU, whether a deal is in place or not by October 31st this year.

Becoming a Third Country National

In a no-deal scenario, British people living in Germany would assume the status of Third Country Nationals.

“We will be looking closely to see if it covers everyone, including those who wouldn’t otherwise necessarily qualify for standard Third Country National residence permits,” Bristow told The Local.

Details were missing from the German Foreign Office's announcement on the proposed legislation, Bristow said, such as what happens to pensioners in Germany who have their healthcare covered by the UK's NHS.

“Whilst it appears that the draft law will provide clarity around residence rights and access to the labour market, there are still many questions left unanswered,” he said.

“For example, what will happen to pensioners whose healthcare is currently paid by the UK? Will this group of people suddenly have to find hundreds of euros per month to pay for health insurance, as previous information has indeed suggested?

“At a time when the value of British pensions is falling for people living in Germany, this is money that many can ill-afford.”

Bristow said there were issues that “cannot be resolved unilaterally, or even in a bilateral agreement between the UK and Germany”.

“For example, to protect the state pensions of people who have worked in more than one EU country we need an agreement at European level,” he said.

British in Germany, which is a branch of British in Europe, is calling on governments to declare their support for ring-fencing the citizens’ rights section of the Withdrawal Agreement in the event that no overall deal can be agreed.

“We also still want to see British citizens living in the EU27 to continue to enjoy freedom of movement around the EU, as under current plans we would be landlocked, unable to move from one EU country to another,” Bristow said.

He added that there was “still a long way to go until all our existing rights are fully protected”.

No-deal to cause major job losses in Europe

The announcement came as a new study predicted a no-deal Brexit would result in the loss of 1.2 million jobs across Europe, including 291,930 in Germany.

Source: Leuven University

The study by Belgium's Leuven University found the country expected to suffer the most, perhaps not surprisingly, is the UK, where more than 500,000 jobs would be lost – up to five percent of its total workforce.

Ireland would be one of the worst-hit countries, as it stands to lose 50,330 jobs. Belgium too would lose a higher percentage of jobs, with 42,390 jobs expected to be cut there in a no-deal scenario.

Source: Leuven University

The study also looked at the potential impact if the UK left with an agreement. In that case, the number of jobs lost across Europe would be smaller – but still significant.

Germany, which has a high employment rate, would face 69,060 job losses even if Britain leaves the EU with an agreement.

Researchers took into account how supply chains across the EU and globally would be disrupted, as well as the countries' direct trade links with the UK.

To calculate the impact, researchers defined “leaving with an agreement” as a situation where the UK leaves the EU but remains part of the internal market or the European Customs Union.

For the projected no-deal scenario, researchers assumed the UK would leave the single market and fall back on trading rules of the World Trade Organization.

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How roaming charges will hit travellers between the UK and EU in 2022

Trips between Europe and the UK and vice versa may well become more expensive for many travellers in 2022 as UK mobile operators bring back roaming charges. However there is some good news for all EU residents.

People look at their mobile phones.
How travellers between the EU and UK could be hit by roaming charges in 2022 (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)

EU ‘roams like at home’ at least until 2032

First the good news. The European Union is set to decide to extend free roaming until 2032, so if you have your phone contract registered in an EU country you don’t have to worry about extra charges.

In addition to waiving the charges, the new regulation aims to ensure that travellers benefit of the same quality of service they have at home when travelling within the EU. If they have a 5G contract, for instance, they should also get 5G through the EU if possible. 

Under new rules, travellers should be given information about access to emergency services, including for people with disabilities.

Consumers should also be protected from prohibitive bills caused by inadvertent roaming on satellite networks when travelling on ferries or aeroplanes.

The final text of the new regulation was provisionally agreed in December. The European Parliament and Council will formally endorse it in the coming weeks.

UK companies reintroducing roaming charges this year

And now the bad news for travellers to the EU from the UK

Customers of UK mobile phone operators face higher fees when travelling in Europe this year, as some companies are bringing back roaming charges for calls, text messages and data downloaded during temporary stays in the EU.

This is one of the many consequences of the UK withdrawal from the European Union. Because of Brexit, the UK is no longer part of the EU’s “roam like at home” initiative which was designed to avoid shocking bills after holidays or business trips abroad.

The EU’s roaming regulation allows people travelling in the European Economic Area (EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) to make calls, send texts and browse the web using their regular plans at no extra cost. Switzerland is not part of the scheme, although some mobile phone providers offer roaming deals or special prices to cover travel in Switzerland.

Under EU rules, if the plan’s allowance is exceeded, the roaming fee is also capped at €0.032 per minute of voice call, €0.01 per SMS and €2.5 + VAT per gigabyte downloaded in 2022 (it was €3 + VAT in 2021). The wholesale price networks can charge each other is capped too.

The regulation was adopted for an initial period of five years and is due to expire on June 30th 2022. But the EU is preparing to extend it for another ten years. This time, however, the UK will not be covered. 

Which UK companies are reintroducing charges?

Three major UK network operators this year will reintroduce roaming charges for travels in the EU.

As of January 6th 2022, Vodafone UK will charge customers with monthly plans started after August 11th 2021 £2 per day to roam in the EU. The amount can be reduced to £1 per day by purchasing a pass for 8 or 15 days. Free roaming continues for earlier contracts, Data Xtra plans and for travels to Ireland.  

From March 3rd 2022, EE will also charge £2 per day to roam in 47 European locations, Ireland excluded. The new policy will apply to plans started from July 7th 2021. Alternatively, EE offers the Roam Abroad Pass, which allows roaming abroad for a month for £10. 

Another operator that announced a £2 daily fee to roam in the EEA, except for Ireland, is Three UK. The charge will apply from May 23rd 2022 for plans started or upgraded since October 1st 2021. The data allowance in monthly plans that can be used abroad is also capped at 12 gigabytes. 

O2 already introduced in August last year a 25-gigabyte cap (or less if the plan’s allowance is lower) to data that can be downloaded for free while travelling in Europe. Above that, customers are charged £3.50 per gigabyte. 

Other mobile operators said they have no intention to bring back roaming charges in the short term, but if won’t be surprising if they do so in the future. 

Sue Davies, Head of Consumer Protection Policy at UK consumer organisation Which? was disappointed at the changes and urged the UK and EU to “strike a deal on roaming charges” to stop companies “chipping away at the roaming benefits customers have become used to” and “prevent the return of the excessive charges people used to encounter.” 

By law, charges for mobile data used abroad remain capped at £45 per month and consumers can only continue data roaming only if they actively chose to keep spending. 

What about EU residents travelling to the UK?

In the EU, most mobile phone operators seem keen to continue free roaming for travels to the UK, but some have announced changes too.

In Sweden, Telenor aligned UK’s prices to those of non-EEA countries on May 1st 2021 while still allowing free roaming for some plans. 

Another Swedish operator, Telia, ended free roaming with the UK and Gibraltar on September 13th 2021 giving customers the option to access 200 megabytes of data for SEK 99 per day. People travelling to the UK can also buy a weekly pass allowing to make calls, send texts and download 1 GB of data. 

In Germany Telefónica Deutschland and 1 & 1 have extended current conditions for the UK until at least the end of 2022. However companies may keep other options open depending on negotiations with roaming partners. 

A1 Telekom Austria brought roaming charges back for the UK last June. Customers now have to pay €2.49 per minute for outgoing calls and €1.49 per minute for incoming calls if they are in the UK or Gibraltar. An SMS costs 99 cents and each 100 KB of data €1.49. 

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.