Activists have warned that tens of thousands of British nationals living in France and three other countries risk losing their rights to local health care, employment and other rights if they do not apply to remain residents in the next 14 days.
British in Europe, a group set up to protect the post-Brexit rights of around 1.2 million British nationals living on the continent, called on France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Malta to extend their deadline to 30 June, as the Netherlands did, to October 30.
“We think the deadline should be extended even at this last stage, because you are taking away people’s rights, which is very serious,” said group co-founder Jane Golding, a lawyer living in Germany.
“There is a special duty of care and no one should fall through the cracks. It will impact access to healthcare, pensions, property rental, the ability to get mortgages, jobs, all the same kinds of issues affecting European citizens living in the UK.
The largest number of British nationals vulnerable to the loss of their rights are in France, where, according to the British Embassy, 135,000 Britons have applied for post-Brexit residency out of an estimated population of 148,300, leaving at least 13,300 in danger. The new license will become compulsory from October 1.
French and UK officials admit that because France does not require EU nationals to register, the actual number of Britons living in the country can be much higher – and they are also much harder to contact. only in countries like the Netherlands, with pre-Brexit EU registration systems.
Before Brexit, British nationals automatically had the right to live, work, study and retire in another EU member state. But those free movement rights were dropped in Boris Johnson’s tough Brexit deal, and Britons who resided legally in some EU member states before December 31, 2020 must officially apply for a new status.
Activists say neither the French government nor the British government – which has carried out information campaigns, including awareness raising events through embassies and residents’ groups and advertisements on social media, in newspapers, on the radio and on billboards – has so far not done enough to raise awareness.
In France, the Foreign Office, Commonwealth and Development ran ads in 30 regional newspapers over the weekend and scheduled more in the next fortnight, while a virtual anniversary celebration of the Queen on June 24 will also offer support and advice to all citizens who have not yet applied.
“With only two weeks to apply for residency in France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Malta, we urge UK nationals living in these countries to apply for residency now, if they haven’t already done so,” said a spokesperson for the British government.
“Support is available for anyone who needs help applying. Even if they are missing documents, they should apply and explain in the application form. The important thing is to apply. Advice is available in the “Living in” guides on the gov.uk website. “
However, campaigners say the British campaign came late and will not reach those who need it most. “The advertisements they broadcast are produced centrally. The latest featured a photo of four elderly people walking on a cold beach in Sweden, ”said Kalba Meadows of France Rights, part of the British in Europe organization.
“This is really not an appropriate message. It’s just not going to affect the kind of people that worry us the most: those who have been here for 40 or 50 years, or the younger ones who grew up here, have French spouses and children. None of them consider themselves British – and there are many. “
The French government, meanwhile, did “almost nothing,” Meadows said. “We think they may have breached their obligations under the withdrawal agreement.”
There had been “no awareness, no awareness campaign – it was all left to civil society groups, and we are confined to social media,” Meadows said. “We are really worried that there will be a large number of undocumented British migrants in France in two weeks. “
According to the third report of the UK-EU specialized committee dealing with citizens’ rights, less than half of the 1,200 Britons in Latvia had applied, only 8,300 of the 13,600 in Malta had applied for the status and 3,600 of the 5,300 Britons in Luxembourg.
British in Europe said it had no specific information on how British citizens who became undocumented migrants would be treated, or what the immediate practical consequences would be.
EU member states were also to clarify whether they would allow late requests on “reasonable grounds” and what those grounds might be, Golding said.
“There will be people who, say, have been married to an EU citizen and live somewhere for years, then were widowed or maybe had to go to a care home – plus they don’t. are not online, ”she said.
“They just won’t know they have to do this until they are asked for a document to access health care, for example,” she said. “Others are integrated, they might not consider it to be for them – they will not realize that their residency documents are no longer valid because of Brexit. “