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Number of Brits leaving UK for Germany at 10-year high due to 'uncertainty surrounding Brexit'

Rachel Loxton
Rachel Loxton - [email protected]
Number of Brits leaving UK for Germany at 10-year high due to 'uncertainty surrounding Brexit'
Anti-Brexit campaigners in London on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

The number of Brits moving to Germany is going up, a new study that shows the impact of Brexit on UK nationals has revealed.


OECD figures and national government statistics analyzed by Oxford in Berlin and the WZB - Berlin Social Science Centre show the the number of people leaving for continental EU countries has risen continuously since 2010 with a dramatic spike since the Brexit referendum in 2016.

And in Germany, the number of UK nationals leaving for the Bundesrepublik has also shot up. Around 11,500 Brits departed the UK and came to Germany in 2018, compared to just over 8,500 in 2008. As the graph below illustrates, there's a clear spike after the Brexit vote in 2016.

READ ALSO: Updated: The ultimate Brexit checklist for Brits in Germany

Graph courtesy of Oxford in Berlin and the WZB - Berlin Social Science Center

Taking into account UK nationals who left Germany, as well as births and deaths, the net migration (the difference between immigration into and emigration from the country) of Britons in Germany has also steadily increased in recent years.

The net migration total for 2018 was 3,635, compared to 1,787 in 2014. But that number is the tip of the iceberg because it doesn't take into account the amount of Britons who received German citizenship, and are therefore known as German in official statistics.

In fact, the study reveals the number of Brits receiving German citizenship has risen massively since the Brexit referendum in 2016: while 622 British citizens received German citizenship in 2015, numbers jumped to 7,493 ‘naturalizations’ in 2017 and predictions for 2019 are higher than all previous years.

The graph below shows the huge spike in the number of people who received German citizenship after Brexit. The number dipped slightly from 7,493 in 2017 to 6,640 in 2018, but it is expected to rise dramatically again this year.

Graph courtesy of Oxford in Berlin and the WZB - Berlin Social Science Center

Figures released by the OECD for the whole continent show a similar trend of Brits acquiring another EU citizenship.

The graph below shows the spike in the number of British nationals migrating to EU countries

Graph courtesy of Oxford in Berlin and the WZB - Berlin Social Science

'Significant social phenomenon'

With Brexit, deal or no–deal, all British citizens living in the UK or elsewhere stand to lose their European citizenship rights such as freedom of movement or recognition of qualifications. Obtaining a nationality of an EU member state is a way for British citizens to guarantee maintaining EU citizenship rights that many people's professional and personal livelihoods over the years have come to depend on.

Rachel from Loughborough, who gained dual citizenship in 2018 and now lives in Berlin, said:  “Getting German citizenship has given me a whole new confidence and security that I had lost.” 

Getting citizenship is a huge relief for Rachel. Photo: courtesy of Oxford in Berlin and the WZB - Berlin Social Science

The authors interviewed other British citizens who have arrived in Germany over the last decade with a wide sample in social background, age and profession. The huge spike in post-2015 naturalizations (both UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK) is marked by the survey data as almost entirely motivated by the Brexit referendum. 

Migration researcher and co-author of the study Dr. Daniel Auer said: “These dramatic jumps tell us we’re onto a significant social phenomenon here whose implications are yet to be understood.” 

'I wouldn't want to give up my British passport'

If there were to be a no–deal Brexit at the end of this month, new applications for German citizenship from British citizens would require them to give up their UK citizenship because German law stipulates that only EU citizens can acquire dual-nationality.   

Therefore, those Brits that want to maintain their European citizenship rights will have to give up their British citizenship, a heart-breaking and impossible prospect for many.

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Alex, a start-up business owner who moved with his wife and two children from the UK to Germany in 2013 said: “We are being hung out to dry by the politicians from both sides.

"With my German language level, I’d have no chance of securing German citizenship and even if I could in the future, I wouldn’t want to give up my British passport. I just have to trust the German government to keep their word and not kick us out.” 

Alex is concerned about citizenship. Photo courtesy of Oxford in Berlin and the WZB - Berlin Social Science

While the legal consequences of Brexit remain so uncertain, people like Alex and Rachel – along with more than 5 million other EU or UK migrants on both sides of the channel – are taking often large risks to do whatever they can to mitigate the pending impact of Brexit on their lives.

Daniel Tetlow, co-author of the study, told The Local: "You can see the sudden surge in people from 2016 onwards to get to get citizenship if they can. And also the stress of people knowing they can’t get it because they haven’t been here long enough. Prevalence of mental health issues is really high, with people not being able to deal with the uncertainty."


'Uncertainty has caused large numbers to move'

The authors of the study also interviewed people like Temi, from London, who left a secure, high paying job to live in Berlin to try and protect her rights as a British European.

They also spoke to Andreas, from Aberdeenshire in Scotland, who was undergoing treatment for leukaemia in Aberdeen. He moved to Germany in 2018 along with his parents over fears that a no-deal Brexit would interrupt his treatment.

“My parents got wind of the chance that my chemo care might be interrupted with a no–deal. So at the end of last year, mid-treatment, my dad, my mum and I moved house and home to Germany," he said.

Andreas moved to Germany last year over fears of a no-deal. Photo courtesy of Oxford in Berlin and the WZB - Berlin Social Science Center

“We now live in German social housing in the same building as Syrian refugees and have the peace of mind that I can finish my chemo and hopefully make a full recovery.”

Some Brits are still on their way over, like Martin and Cornelia who just packed up their house in Reading and are on the way to Hamburg with their two young children.

While Cornelia managed to organize a laboratory job with her former employer in Oxford, Martin is making a huge sacrifice going from a well-paid IT job to being unemployed. If it wasn’t for the Brexit vote, they both said they’d have definitely stayed in the UK.

Co-author Auer added: “The uncertainty surrounding Brexit has certainly caused large numbers of people to pack their bags in both directions. Unfortunately migration numbers, especially for people leaving the UK, have a high error rate because they rely on approximations from passenger surveys.

“For that reason, in our study we use OECD data based on national immigration statistics, available until the end of 2017, so one of the challenges for our study is to better understand the effect of Brexit since then.”


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