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BREXIT

UPDATE: British residents of EU told not to worry about ‘souvenir’ passport stamps

In recent days it has emerged that scores of British nationals living in EU countries have wrongly had their passports stamped with a date of entry when returning home. One couple was told to contact a lawyer, but the message from authorities is "don't panic".

UPDATE: British residents of EU told not to worry about 'souvenir' passport stamps
Photo: Ethan Wilkinson on Unsplash

British nationals coming to the EU have previously not needed to have their passport stamps but Brexit and the end of freedom of movement has changed things somewhat.

But while visitors are now subject to the Schengen area's 90-day rule, meaning they can spend a maximum of 90 days out of every 180 in the Schengen area, those Britons living in the EU are not and therefore should not have their passports stamped.

However reports have emerged in recent days that scores of Britons returning from a Christmas break in the UK have had a date stamped into their passport by border officials in EU countries.

There are reports that French border officials are routinely stamping all passports, while The Local has been contacted by Britons returning to Sweden, Germany and other EU countries who have also had an entry date stamped in their passport.

'Contact a lawyer'

Catherine Keens, who returned to Munich from Manchester, said her passport was stamped on arrival in Germany despite her asking border officials not to do so.

“The border control agent seemed unsure whether to stamp our passports or not and asked his colleague, who also seemed unsure. I asked that they didn't stamp our passports, but they were stamped nonetheless,” she said.

“We now both have a stamp in our passports and are concerned that it has started the clock ticking for the 90 days in 180 days scenario, which of course doesn't apply to us as we live here.”
 
When she contacted the British Consulate in Munich she received some worrying advice.
 
“I emailed the British Embassy in Munich to ask how we can have this action reversed or made invalid but they have said I need to contact a lawyer to try and find a solution. They say they can't help at all.
 
“We feel abandoned by the British government and don't really know who to call or what to do about it. We realise there are many more in the same situation, but this is little consolation.”
 
Britons returning to France over the New Year had similar experiences.
 
Kalba Meadows from the France Rights group told The Local: “Over the weekend in France, for example, it seems that all entry points were stamping passports – same in many other EU countries.”
 
Meadows, whose group is part of British in Europe, said she had asked the EU Commission for answers.
 
 
'Could be issues down the line'
 
“The main issue is that a passport stamp means, in theory at least, that the person has entered the Schengen area as a visitor not as a resident, thus setting off the 90 day clock,” she said.
 
“So there could be issues down the line, in April, when they get to the end of the permitted period for visitors.”
 
Similar questions have been raised by British in Germany.
 
“I’ve had reports from Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich and Düsseldorf of people having their passports stamped,” says the group's Matt Bristow.
 
“Theoretically it sets a clock ticking to leave the Schengen zone within 90 days.”
 
If you had your passport stamped your right to stay in Germany isn’t affected, Bristow says, but it could lead to questions when crossing the Schengen border in future.
 
British in Germany are currently speaking to authorities and asking them to formally address this issue.
 
The Local has asked British government representatives and the EU Commission for a response and for advice for those citizens who have had their passports stamped.
 
'Just a souvenir'
 
The UK embassy in Berlin told The Local as expected that residents should not have their passports stamped.
 
“A stamp in your passport does not alter your rights under the Withdrawal Agreement, such as your right to reside here and to receive a new residence document. We have raised this issue with the German authorities.”
 
German immigration authorities responded by saying: “Stamping a passport at the border does not mean that a decision on residence status has been taken.
 
“The stamp merely documents that the passport holder was checked in the place stated on the stamp, whether this check had been performed in the course of an entry or exit, and which means of transport was used.
 
“The stamp entails neither the loss of rights under the Withdrawal Agreement nor in any other way a change of legal status. Consequently, a stamp on entry does not need to be annulled and may be retained unaltered in the passport as a souvenir.
 
But German authorities did warn that those with stamps should take proof of residence next time they travel abroad outside the Schengen area.
 
“If however someone exits the Schengen area more than 90 days after their passport was stamped, then they should also carry with them a document demonstrating their current residence status, for example as a beneficiary of the Withdrawal Agreement,” the statement read.
 
Meanwhile the British embassy in France has tried to reassure UK residents in France.
 
'Rights not affected'
 
In a Facebook post they wrote: “Your rights in France will not be affected if your passport is incorrectly or unnecessarily stamped.
 

 
 
“It will also not affect your ability to apply for a Withdrawal Agreement Residency permit as long as you can demonstrate that you were settled in France by 31 December 2020.
 
Officials added: “If you cannot show that you are already resident in France, you may be asked additional questions at the border to enter the Schengen area, and your passport may be stamped.
 
“You will be able to show evidence you live in France (as above) the next time you cross the border.
 

“The Embassy is liaising with the French authorities on how these rules are being applied at the French border.”
 
It's likely therefore that the stamping of passports can be put down to teething problems as EU countries become accustomed to Brexit. But while those Brits who have had their passports stamped are told not to worry, it wouldn't be a surprise if some do have issues when crossing Schengen borders in future.

 
If you have been affected by this issue you can contact The Local at [email protected] or British in Europe on Twitter @BritishinEurope.

Member comments

  1. I’m American with a French residence/titres de séjour, and normally show both my passport and Titres de Séjour at the border. Occasionally I get stamped, but mostly not. The stamp itself doesn’t seem to be a problem, given that the Titres de Séjour proves my residency, so I’ve never had issues getting home to France. I would suspect Britons will eventually fall into the same rhythm that every other non-EU person in Europe faces. Good luck to all those stranded.

  2. Just goes to prove that all British Embassies are a waste of time, are only there for entertaining, for the employees to live and work in opulence.

  3. As a UK citizen and Swiss residency permit holder (B), does that give me the right to travel throughout the entire Schengen region without have to worry about the 90/180 days restriction? Or does the clock start ticking the moment I leave Switzerland into e.g. Germany/France/Italy? Obviously there is no passport stamping going to happen when travelling between Schengen countries, so my assumption would be that my Swiss permit effectively exempts me from the Schengen time limitation because they wouldn’t be able to police it? It’s totally not clear though!

  4. I travelled within Western Europe from 1970 upwards and I never ever had my passport stamped. I also lived and worked in the Netherlands for a year from 1974. I cant understand all this passport stamping.

  5. Regarding policing – yes most of the time nobody is stopped however the 90 day rule legally applies but if not stopped on at the border on the way out of Switzerland you could say any date you wanted if asked later
    5.1 Do third-country nationals (non EU/EFTA) with a Swiss residence permit require a visa for the other Schengen states
    Third-country nationals (non EU/EFTA) in possession of a Swiss permit B, C, L and Ci may visit the Schengen area for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa, provided they have a residence permit and a valid travel document

  6. You simply need to take your ID card with you… in fact, it is probably valid for travel within the EU. If you show a passport, that document doesn’t certify that you are resident, so you will be treated exactly the same as all other UK passport holders as citizens of a non-EU country now. The passport authorities are NOT going to take your word that you are EU resident… but if you bring your proof (ID card) you won’t have any problems.

    1. This isn’t true. We had our Italian ID cards with us today but the Slovenia border patrol stamped our passports anyway .

  7. As British Subjects have a limited stay in EU countries, it seems quite logical that their passports should be stamped on entry to Schengen countries. If someone has German residence this does not give him/her unlimited stay in France, Austria or other EU Schengen countries. However it would be difficult to check how much time is spent in the other countries. If the authorities want to be difficult the onus would be on the individual to prove how long he has spent there.

  8. As a serial immigrant, I can tell you that border personnel all over the world have a varying level of antipathy towards foreigners. The best I experienced was Canada, the worst without doubt the USA – incredibly aggressive and, frankly, rude apart from one exceptionally nice chap at the Buffalo crossing from Canada.
    It doesn’t surprise me at all that a lot of border staff are ignorant of the requirements. They are not well paid and, well, ‘peanuts/monkeys’.

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BREXIT

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”

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