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IMMIGRATION

What Brits in Switzerland need to know about Brexit

Brexit is set to become final on the 31st of January. Here’s what you need to know.

What Brits in Switzerland need to know about Brexit
Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

More than three and a half years since the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, Brexit is set to take place this Friday, January 31st.

While Switzerland is not a member of the European Union – in fact, Switzerland is having its own referendum on freedom of movement rights later this year – there are several potential implications for UK citizens living in Switzerland, as well as those living in neighbouring countries and Swiss citizens who live in the UK. 

READ: Five things you should know if you're a cross-border worker in Switzerland

After several extensions, the date upon which the UK will leave the European Union is January 31st, 2020.

While stranger things have happened, with just a couple of days to go, this date is unlikely to be extended further. 

The best news for anyone worried about the 31st of January is that nothing is set to change until at least the end of the ‘implementation period’ – which has been set at December 31st, 2020. Although that date may be extended.

Up until then, the Free Movement of Persons Agreement  (AFPM) – which applies between EU members and Switzerland – will remain in place thanks to the Swiss Citizens’ Rights Agreement agreed between the UK and Switzerland.

As soon as the transition period ends then the Swiss Citizens' Rights Agreement will come into force that will protect the residence rights (and other rights) of British citizens in Switzerland that they acquired under the AFMP.

As of now that date will be January 1st 2021.

Britannia. Cool. Photo; NIKLAS HALLE'N / AFP

I’m a UK citizen living in Switzerland. Where do I stand?

British citizens living in Switzerland who currently possess a residence permit do not need to take any action. 

The most recent government advice indicates that there may at a later stage be a requirement that residents change their current permit for a newer one, although this will purely be a procedural change but will likely be subject to a criminal records check. 

This process involves contacting the immigration and labour market authorities in the canton in which you live to apply for a new permit before the existing one expires. 

Any access to pensions or other benefits will also not be affected, with the agreement promising “no disadvantage” to workers as a result of Brexit. 

The full list of rights which will be protected for UK citizens in Switzerland under the bilateral agreement are: 

Residence with gainful employment (employed and self-employed);

Residence without gainful activity; 

Right to family reunification.

On family reunification the rules are as follows:

“Individuals in scope of the agreement can be joined by close family members (spouses, civil and unmarried partners, dependent children and grandchildren, and dependent parents and grandparents) who live in a different country at any point in the future, if the relationship existed on the specified date and still exists when the person wishes to come to the UK.

“Individuals in scope of the agreement can also be joined by new spouses and partners under current rules for five years after the specified date.”

Employment in Switzerland as a cross-border commuter;

Continuation of service provisions (up to 90 days per calendar year) in the other party by companies and self-employed persons domiciled in Switzerland or the United Kingdom; 

Principle of non-discrimination; and 

Right to purchase immovable property

Brits in Switzerland will also maintain the right to have their professional qualifications recognised and the right  to access social security benefits and health cover.

British workers and those who are self-employed will be guaranteed broadly the same rights as they currently enjoy under the AFPM. In other words “they have a right to not be discriminated against due to nationality.”

The rights acquired under this agreement are valid indefinitely, provided the conditions stipulated in the agreement are met.

That means there are certain cases in which British residents in Switzerland could lose their right to residency.

For example:

A more comprehensive list of Frequently Asked Questions is provided at the following link

Those in Switzerland or who arrive before December 301st 2020 will be able to apply for permanent residency after five years.

I’m a UK citizen and might like to move to Switzerland after Brexit. What about me?

The existing and transitional arrangements only apply to UK citizens who currently have permission to live in Switzerland or who move before December 31st – not those who may seek to acquire it in the future after the end of the transition or implementation period. 

As yet, no arrangement has been made between the two countries – although talks are ongoing. 

Swiss law creates quotas for foreign workers and this advice from the Swiss government said expanding quotas to include British workers would be considered as part of the discussions. 

For people with family in the UK who may want to move later, the right of family reunification will also be part of these discussions. 

Is there end in sight for Brexit drama? Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP

How are Swiss citizens’ rights in the UK affected?

As Switzerland is not in the EU, rights to work, reside and move freely between Switzerland and the UK are contained in the Swiss Citizens’ Rights Agreement after the implementation period ends on December 31st, 2020. 

This agreement applies between Switzerland and the UK. As said specifically in the guide, the goal of the agreement is to uphold the rights of Swiss citizens in the UK. 

“It will ensure that individuals can rely directly on these rights in the UK courts and will protect the rights to equal treatment and non-discrimination for Swiss nationals living or working in the UK. Protection of UK nationals living or working in Switzerland will be provided for by Switzerland.”

The Swiss Citizens’ Rights Agreement provides a six-month grace period after December 31st, 2020, where Swiss citizens can apply under the EU Settlement Scheme for rights to stay in the UK.

If Swiss nationals in the UK are successful in doing so, they will be granted with much the same rights as they currently have. 

I am Swiss and I work in the UK but do not live there – what about me?

The Swiss Citizens’ Rights Agreement also protects the rights of so-called ‘frontier workers’, i.e. workers who live in Switzerland but work in the UK. As the government advice says specifically, workers will be protected “by retaining their right to enter and work in the country of their employment (including self-employment). 

This will apply to Swiss nationals who are not living in the UK but are currently working here.”

More information is provided here in this official UK Government notice, although it is primarily focused on Swiss citizens living in the UK rather than the reverse. 

Notice: As with any form of advice piece featured on The Local Switzerland, it is a guide for our readers only and does not amount to legal advice. Always seek legal advice on matters relating to immigration rights. 

 

 

 

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EUROPEAN UNION

How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

Non-EU citizens living in the European Union are eligible for a special residence status that allows them to move to another country in the bloc. Getting the permit is not simple but may get easier, explains Claudia Delpero.

How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

The European Commission proposed this week to simplify residence rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the European Union.

The intention is to ease procedures in three areas: acquiring EU long-term residence status, moving to other EU countries and improving the rights of family members. 

But the new measures will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council, which is made of national ministers. Will EU governments support them?

What is EU long-term residence?

Non-EU citizens who live in EU countries on a long-term basis are eligible for long-term residence status, nationally and at the EU level. 

This EU status can be acquired if the person has lived ‘legally’ in an EU country for at least five years, has not been away for more than 6 consecutive months and 10 months over the entire period, and can prove to have “stable and regular economic resources” and health insurance. Applicants can also be required to meet “integration conditions”, such as passing a test on the national language or culture knowledge. 

The EU long-term residence permit is valid for at least five years and is automatically renewable. But the status can be lost if the holder leaves the EU for more than one year (the EU Court of Justice recently clarified that being physically in the EU for a few days in a 12-month period is enough to maintain the status).

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: How many non-EU citizens live in European Union countries?

Long-term residence status grants equal treatment to EU nationals in areas such as employment and self-employment or education. In addition, EU long-term residence grants the possibility to move to other EU countries under certain conditions. 

What does the European Commission want to change?

The European Commission has proposed to make it easier to acquire EU long-term residence status and to strengthen the rights associated with it. 

Under new measures, non-EU citizens should be able to cumulate residence periods in different EU countries to reach the 5-year requirement, instead of resetting the clock at each move. 

This, however, will not apply to individuals who used a ‘residence by investment’ scheme to gain rights in the EU, as the Commission wants to “limit the attractiveness” of these routes and not all EU states offer such schemes. 

All periods of legal residence should be fully counted towards the 5 years, including those spent as students, beneficiaries of temporary protection or on temporary grounds. Stays under a short-term visa do not count.

Children who are born or adopted in the EU country having issued the EU long-term residence permit to their parents should acquire EU long-term resident status in that country automatically, without residence requirement, the Commission added.

READ ALSO: Why it may get easier for non-EU citizens to move to another European Union country

EU countries should also avoid imposing a minimum income level for the resources condition but consider the applicant’s individual circumstances, the Commission suggests.

Integration tests should not be too burdensome or expensive, nor should they be requested for long-term residents’ family reunifications. 

The Commission also proposed to extend from 12 to 24 months the possibility to leave the EU without losing status, with facilitated procedures (no integration test) for the re-acquisition of status after longer absences.

A person who has already acquired EU long-term residence status in one EU country should only need three years to acquire the same status in another EU member state. But the second country could decide whether to wait the completion of the five years before granting social benefits. 

The proposal also clarifies that EU long-term residents should have the same right as EU nationals with regard to the acquisition of private housing and the export of pensions, when moving to a third country. 

Why make these changes?

Although EU long-term residence exists since 2006, few people have benefited. “The long-term residents directive is under-used by the member states and does not provide for an effective right to mobility within the EU,” the Commission says. 

Around 3.1 million third-country nationals held long-term residence permits for the EU in 2017, compared to 7.1 million holding a national one. “we would like to make the EU long-term residence permit more attractive,” said European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

The problems are the conditions to acquire the status, too difficult to meet, the barriers faced when moving in the EU, the lack of consistency in the rights of long-term residents and their family members and the lack of information about the scheme.

Most EU member states continue to issue “almost exclusively” national permits unless the applicant explicitly asks for the EU one, an evaluation of the directive has shown.

READ ALSO: Pensions in the EU: What you need to know if you’re moving country

This proposal is part of a package to “improve the EU’s overall attractiveness to foreign talent”, address skill shortages and facilitate integration in the EU labour market of people fleeing Ukraine. 

On 1 January 2021, 23.7 million non-EU nationals were residing in the EU, representing 5.3% of the total population. Between 2.25 to 3 million non-EU citizens move to the EU every year. More than 5 million people have left Ukraine for neighbouring states since the beginning of the war in February. 

Will these measures also apply to British citizens?

These measures also apply to British citizens, whether they moved to an EU country before or after Brexit. 

The European Commission has recently clarified that Britons living in the EU under the Withdrawal Agreement can apply for a long-term residence too.

As Britons covered by the Withdrawal Agreement have their residence rights secured only in the country where they lived before Brexit, the British in Europe coalition recommended those who need mobility rights to seek EU long-term residence status. 

These provisions do not apply in Denmark and Ireland, which opted out of the directive.

What happens next?

The Commission proposals will have to be discussed and agreed upon by the European Parliament and Council. This is made of national ministers, who decide by qualified majority. During the process, the proposals can be amended or even scrapped. 

In 2021, the European Parliament voted through a resolution saying that third-country nationals who are long-term residents in the EU should have the right to reside permanently in other EU countries, like EU citizens. The Parliament also called for the reduction of the residency requirement to acquire EU long-term residence from five to three years.

READ ALSO: COMPARE: Which EU countries grant citizenship to the most people?

EU governments will be harder to convince. However, presenting the package, Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said proposals are likely to be supported because “they fit in a broader framework”, which represents the “construction” of the “EU migration policy”. 

National governments are also likely to agree because large and small employers face skill shortages, “especially in areas that are key to our competitiveness, like agri-food, digital, tourism, healthcare… we need people,” Schinas said.

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

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