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Frontier workers to the ‘European Esta’: British Embassy in Switzerland answers Brexit questions

It’s been just under a month since the United Kingdom officially left the European Union, but questions remain for many.

Frontier workers to the 'European Esta': British Embassy in Switzerland answers Brexit questions
Photo: ODD ANDERSEN / AFP

While Switzerland isn’t a member of the bloc, there are still implications for people who live and work in Switzerland. 

Early in February, the British Embassy in Switzerland answered some frequently asked questions about the process and everything that was changing. Here are some of the most pressing questions, while a full list of the questions can be found here

When the European “Esta” comes into effect will we have to apply for it in order to go into France or Germany? Do we have to keep all receipts to prove we have only been 90 days in the Schengen area?

ETIAS (the European “Esta”) is due to be introduced during 2021, and the scheme will cover all countries within the Schengen Area. You can find further information here

Once the scheme comes into operation, UK visitors to the Schengen Area will need to obtain an ETIAS. UK nationals resident in the Schengen Area (e.g. resident in Switzerland) should not need to obtain an ETIAS for travel to another country within the Schengen Area.

READ: What Brits in Switzerland need to know about Brexit

READ: 'Doors will close for Brits in EU': Why the UK's post-Brexit immigration plan has sparked alarm

What will be the future situation for British Frontalier workers? I live in France and work in Geneva as an International fonctionaire (CERN). My two daughters are presently studying in the UK and may want to work in this area after university. As there a very few jobs in France in this border area they would want to apply to work in Switzerland as frontalier workers but this will be post Brexit. What would their situation be? Would it be better to move to Switzerland?

UK nationals who are currently frontier working in Switzerland are protected by our Citizens’ Rights Agreement, which will apply from 1 January 2021.

If your daughters apply for a Swiss frontier worker permit (G permit) before 31 December 2020, then they will also be covered by the Citizens’ Rights Agreement. If they apply after this period, then they will have to fulfil the requirements for third country nationals

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

After the transition period, will UK citizens on an EU B permit be able to retain it until the expiry date, or will they have to switch to the one year B permit?

Your B permit remains valid, and you can renew it when it expires as usual. This is protected by our Citizens’ Rights Agreement which will enter into force on 1 January 2021. If you are eligible and fulfil the requirements for a C permit, you will be able to apply for one at the migration authority in your place of residence

A practical question: my C-permit says “EU-EFTA”. Do we need to get a new one or does the current one remain valid until the “Kontrollfrist”. At my local Kreisbüro they were unable to answer the question last week.

You don’t need to get a new permit. Your current permit remains valid, and you should renew it when it expires as now. The EU/EFTA branding doesn’t affect the validity of your permit.

There are some linguistic requirements for C permit renewals for 3rd party nationals (at least here in Zurich). Will those apply to Brits with C permits after Brexit? My German is still so bad – it's easy to live in Zurich in English.

Starting on 1 January 2019, new provisions for work and residence permits entered into force in Switzerland. This is however unrelated to Brexit but is rather a matter of Swiss domestic legislation.

For UK nationals in possession of a Swiss B or C permit, nothing changes for renewal of those permits until the end of the transition period (31 December 2020). For all new C permits (i.e. conversion from a B to C permit), the proof of language skills (in the language of the place of residence) from an accredited institution applies as of 1 January 2020. You can find a list of accredited institutions here

READ: How have Switzerland's tougher language requirements for work permits affected foreign citizens? 

At EU and Swiss airport immigration, do I now have to go through 'other nationalities' because I am not Swiss and we are now not in EU?

Current arrangements for travel in the EU will not change during the transition period which lasts until 31 December 2020. UK nationals will be able to use the EU immigration lines or e-gates, and they will not have their passports stamped.

What is likely to happen with the rights of British citizens past 31 Dec 2020 in Switzerland? Are there other agreements in negotiation right now? What happens to the upcoming permit renewals post 2020? Would British citizens be still eligible for a C permit after 5 years?

The rights of UK nationals in Switzerland, and indeed Swiss citizens in the UK, are protected by our Citizens’ Rights Agreement which will come into force from 1 January 2021. This means you will be able to renew your permit when it expires, as usual.

This includes renewal of L, G, B and C permits. Switching from a B to C permit falls under Swiss domestic law.

UK nationals covered by our Citizens’ Rights Agreement are eligible to apply for a C permit after 5 years, subject to fulfilling the integration criteria.

From 1 January 2020 this includes a proof of language skills (A2 spoken and A1 written) from an accredited institution. You can find a list of accredited institutions here.

Do Swiss hospitals still accept the EHIC card? If so up until when will it be accepted?

Your EHIC remains valid. There will be no changes to healthcare access for UK nationals visiting or living in the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland before 1 January 2021.

The UK’s agreement temporarily protects EHIC and S2 for UK nationals who find themselves in another Member State on 31 December 2020.

They will be able to complete any treatment they are undergoing or have access to ‘needs arising’ treatment through their EHIC in that Member State, until they return to the UK. This includes people on holiday. EHIC is only valid for temporary stays, however, such as a holiday.

If you are resident in Switzerland, you must take out compulsory insurance with a Swiss health insurance company no later than three months after arriving or beginning to work in Switzerland.

For more information and useful links, visit our Living in Guide.

From 1 January 2021, our UK-Swiss citizens’ rights agreement protects social security arrangements for UK nationals resident in Switzerland; this means reciprocal healthcare arrangements will continue for people such as UK state pensioners, or students on a course of study.

Can we now have access to our private pension if we move back to the UK as no longer in EU?

Your access to your private pension will not be affected by the UK leaving the EU.

Private pensions are ultimately treated as the property of the individual scheme member, and private property is protected by international law.

We fully expect that people will continue to be able to access their pension savings or pension rights. If you are returning to the UK permanently, you should contact the international pension centre to move your pension to the UK.

If you choose to stay in Switzerland, your rights will be protected under our Citizens’ Rights Agreement, which will apply from 1 January 2021.

Social security coordination rules will continue to apply to those covered by the agreement, and we will continue to aggregate social security contributions.

The UK government has confirmed lifelong uprating of UK state pension for recipients in Switzerland, and the right to export relevant benefits to Switzerland and the UK will generally continue as now.

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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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