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'No big bang but things will change down the line’ : How Brexit will affect Brits in Germany

Rachel Loxton
Rachel Loxton - [email protected]
'No big bang but things will change down the line’ : How Brexit will affect Brits in Germany
Pro-EU campaigners in London earlier in January. Photo: DPA

We spoke to Matt Bristow from British in Germany to find out Brexit impacts Brits in Germany immediately – and in the coming years.


When UK citizens woke up on Saturday they might not have felt any different. But many of them lost their EU citizenship. So what changes for Brits living in Germany?

“The main message is for the most part nothing particularly changes this weekend,” Matt Bristow from citizens right group British in Germany told The Local ahead of Brexit.  “You still enjoy your full freedom of movement rights as if you were an EU citizen.”

During the transition period, which lasts until December 31st 2020 unless it is extended, British people in Germany won’t notice any big differences due to Brexit. 

But there is one immediate change: Brits lost the right to stand and vote in local and European elections from February 1st.

Bristow explained that Brits were not able to vote to elect the mayor of Leipzig "but  they would have done if they were still in the EU,” he said.

“For the most part when it comes to residence, employment rights, etc, British citizens will be treated the same as EU citizens.”

We still don't know exactly what will change after the transition or grace period as lots of things remain up in the air. Here's some of the things we know (and don't know) so far.

READ ALSO: Brexit: What should Brits think about before January 31st

Residence rights

The German government hasn't confirmed which system it will opt for when it comes to residency permits for Brits in Germany after the transition period.

Bristow said: "We haven’t got any clarity from the federal government about what system is going to be put in place, whether they’re going for the declaratory option, which means people have their rights already (and don't have to re-register) but they can get a piece of paper to prove it if they want.

"Or whether they’re going down the route of a constitutive system where people would have to apply for the rights to remain under the Withdrawal Agreement, similar to the 'settled status' process in the UK."

British in Germany is discussing this with German officials in a bid to get clarity.

"We think a declaratory system would be better because it reduces the risk of people falling through the gaps of the system," said Bristow.

Matt Bristow of British in Germany in Berlin. Photo courtesy of Matt Bristow

Germany has previously said that British people must apply for a residence permit to legally stay in the country. So Brits should make sure they are officially registered (Anmeldung) to prove they live in Germany. And then they can contact their local Ausländerbehörde to find information on how they can apply for a residence permit.

Last year Berlin set up a registration process to get a head start on Brexit, and in case a no-deal left Brits in limbo.

Berlin authorities told us that as of Wednesday this week 13,878 British nationals out of a total of around 18,000 had registered online.

Of those, 3,136 have been invited to interviews. A total of 2,738 have been given a Niederlassungserlaubnis (permanent residency), 29 have received an Aufenthaltserlaubnis (limited residence permit), 349 a Fiktionsbescheinigung (holding permit) and 20 have been given other permits.

Some other immigration authorities across Germany have also already handed out residence permits. 

However, immigration offices have hit pause on the process until they are given the green light from the government on what happens next.

Bristow said there's a chance that all those who've been given residence permits would have to go back to the immigration office and receive a different permit depending on what route the government decides to go down when it comes to residency rights.

Those wishing to move to Germany under current rules have until the end of the transition period (December 31st). Brits then have a further six months to apply for a residence permit under the Withdrawal Agreement (assuming Germany still requires Brits to apply.)

REMINDER: What the Withdrawal Agreement means for British citizens in Germany

Contradicting information

Brexit is confusing for all involved, not least regular citizens. But as Germany is a federal country it adds another layer of  difficulties because each local authority and state has different ways of doing things.

Recently, a British student based in Konstanz was sent a letter saying she'd have to pay international fees due to Brexit, even though that shouldn't have been the case. As British in Germany highlighted in this tweet, the university said they got it wrong and apologized.

However, it highlights the confusing information out there, and how citizens can get caught up in the system.

Last week, a British student at a German uni received a letter saying she‘d have to pay international tuition fees from next semester due to #Brexit

Fortunately @unikonstanz has apologised and admitted it got it wrong ??

But this highlights the confusion around #citizensrights

— British in Germany (@BritsinGermany) January 27, 2020

"I think like we've seen in the case at the weekend there’s a complete lack of information at the moment and we need to try and fill some of that vaccum," said Bristow.

"Both citizens themselves and the local authorities, institutions and governments are in desperate need for some guidance from the federal government."

What else should Brits be aware of?

Although there are no big changes immediately, there will be some in future.

After the transition period ends, Brits won't have full freedom of movement across the EU anymore. It will become harder to work across different EU countries.

"At the moment if you just work in Germany, and next year you also wanted to work in France you wouldn’t be able to do that so easily – you’d need a work permit for that," said Bristow.

Photo: DPA

"One thing we’re campaigning for is people to have the right for onward free movement and for people to be able to work in other countries within the EU whether that’s as an employed person or providing services across borders."

Bringing a foreign partner to the UK

Another big issue is about how Britons can return to the UK in future with their non-British partner or family.

"People who have a non-British partner who might at some point want to move back to the UK will find it more difficult in future," said Bristow. "They’re able to do so up until a certain date under the Withdrawal Agreement but then that right expires. After that you’re subject to UK national immigration."

READ ALSO: The ultimate Brexit checklist for Brits in Germany

It means Brits would have to reach the minimum income thresholds to allow them to bring their foreign partner to live with them.

"There’s lots of people who are saying at some point I might have to choose between my parents and my partner and children," said Bristow.

Brexit is "not so much a big bang at the moment, but there are things down the line that will have huge impact on people’s lives," he added.

Applying for German citizenship

For those looking to keep EU citizenship, applying for a German passport is one way to do this. Britons will have until the end of the transition period to apply for German citizenship if they meet the criteria, and they'll still be able to keep their British citizenship.

After the transition period Brits applying for a German citizenship will have to give up their British citizenship.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about applying for German citizenship

Other daily logistics

When it comes to healthcare and other parts of daily life, things largely remain the same, although it is worth checking that everything is in order with your health cover – through the S1 system if you are a pensioner or under the German healthcare system.

"If you are living in Germany or move there permanently before 31st December 2020, you’ll have life-long healthcare rights in Germany as you do now, provided you remain resident," the UK government says.

You could also think about changing your driving licence to a German one.

Brits have also been urged to get professional qualifications recognized.

If there are outstanding things that need to be arranged it will almost certainly be easier to do them during the transition period.

There remains uncertainty for Brits in Germany but it should become clearer over the coming months.

For now, keep an out on The Local for the latest updates, as well as British in Germany and British in Europe.

"If you run into difficulties contact the British Embassy or look for advice," said Bristow. "There’s a lot of confusion out there so don’t be afraid to ask questions."

To find out more about how to join or donate to British in Germany click here.

British in Europe have been publishing detailed analysis of the Withdrawal Agreement and what it means for Britons across the EU. You can find out more HERE.


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