Brexit: What would happen to expats if Britain left the EU?
Update: 20th June, 2016
Europe is looking at Britain these days, with the EU referendum just days away, an air of caution, fear and anticipation has taken hold of Europeans. The sentiment on the “continent” seems consistently in favor of a strong union, and a future with Britain as a vital part within the EU. As Germany’s Der Spiegel put it so emphatically, the message is “Please Don’t Go!” – and certainly this feels like more than a merely economically motivated appeal. It is a heartfelt plea from people who fear for the future of the European project, should Britain decide to leave. Challenges are plenty these days, from balancing the labor market to the fight against terror, it seems like now more than ever, the consensus among Europeans is that a united Europe is needed in order to face those challenges and continue on a path to peace and prosperity.
The opinion in the United Kingdom appears to be about evenly split between those in favor of staying and those wanting to get out, so an exciting election day on June 23rd seems imminent. The question on the minds of British expats throughout Europe surely has to be “What happens if Britain were to indeed leave the EU?”
With a mindset on immigration issues and national finance the “no”- pushers refuse to think about 2 million Brits, who live all over Europe. Expats could face issues from bureaucratic obstacles up to the loss of their whole existence in other countries. Whether for students, expats or short-term residents, being part of the EU facilitates life gravely and brings benefits for expats as well as the countries of residence.
With a “NO” the status of expats would change overnight, which obviously does not mean that British migrants will be kicked out, but there will be uncertainty and a strong possibility that residents could face vast barriers. Focusing on the 2.3 million European citizens living in the UK, the fate of a nearly equal number of British citizens, who would face similar consequences seems neglected.
If the referendum decides to leave the EU, there are a few possible scenarios, what could happen to Britons in Europe:
- The UK retains its membership in the European Economic Area (EEA), an existing economic treaty between the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. This “best-case” scenario for expats, would mean that most existing rules on free movement in Europe would continue to apply. But immigration issues of Britain and the argumentation of cost and sovereignty, which centered the debate, would not apply to the validated relations of EEA countries.
- There is going to be an ad hoc solution between the UK and the EU, which regulates the matters of free movement in Europe. This would probably mean, that there were less liberate agreements compared to EEA countries and consequently at least bureaucratic issues for Expats. Due to all possible outcomes of the negotiations, this scenario is unpredictable but likely to happen.
- The third scenario would mean literally no agreement between the UK and EU, which would translate into the legislative conditions as third-country nationals face in Europe. This “worst-case” scenario would affect British citizens way worse, than EU citizens in the UK, because the UK has already opted out of the most part of EU immigration law. Expats could have to apply for temporary Visa or seek asylum in the EU, but this dire prospect is unlikely to happen.
The fate of British Expats is just a small piece in the big picture of this vast political decision, but since they are one of the most affected groups, it is unlike important to take part in the debate as well as the referendum itself.
Online communities such as Votes for Expats or Facebook Groups, like UK Citizens in the EU or British Expats: Say Yes 2 Europe are offering platforms for discussion and information on the topic.
It’s all the more tragic, that having spent over 15 years abroad, you lose your right to vote in the referendum, thus you are directly and profoundly affected. Get all the information you need in our Voting from Abroad article.