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RESIDENCY PERMITS

EU Commission: ‘A stamp in a British passport does not put residency rights into question’

After hundreds of British residents of EU countries had passports stamped when returning from the UK in the New Year the EU Commission has responded to The Local's request for information and advice on their behalf. Here's the response in full.

EU Commission: 'A stamp in a British passport does not put residency rights into question'
Photo: AFP/UK Passport Office
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 by consular officials in Germany.

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

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 legally resident in the EU are not, and therefore should not have their passports stamped.

But since January 1st scores of UK residents in the EU have seen immigration officials stamp their passports with an entry date when returning from the EU.

Many British nationals have contacted The Local, while citizens' rights groups have raised concerns that passport stamps may cause problems the next time British citizens leave the Schengen area if they are over the 90-day limit.

The Local asked the EU Commission to explain why passports were being stamped and what advice it had for British nationals.

 

Passports should not be stamped

Firstly the Commission confirmed that the passports of British residents whose rights are protected by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement should not be stamped. EU officials have tried to get that message across to border police in all member states, they added. 

“We regret the difficulties some UK travellers encountered. We have worked very closely with member states on the implementation of the (Brexit) Withdrawal Agreement to avoid such difficulties. Overall, the changes linked to the end of the transition period and end of application of EU law on free movement of EU citizens to United Kingdom nationals were implemented smoothly.

“Withdrawal Agreement beneficiaries have a right to enter their host member state and their passports should not be stamped when they cross an external Schengen border.

“Withdrawal Agreement beneficiaries are moreover exempted from the Council Recommendation on the temporary restriction on non-essential travel into the EU linked to the coronavirus pandemic. As non-EU nationals legally residing in the EU, they must not be denied boarding for travels into the EU under the Council recommendation.”

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What if you have no post-Brexit residency permit? 

The problem for many British travellers resident in the EU is that they are not yet in possession of a new post-Brexit residency permit given that many governments have only recently opened the application processes. 

That has left them relying on trying to convince border guards themselves that there was no need to stamp passports.

The EU commission said it has created guidance for all border guards, but it seems that guidance is not being read.

The Commission said: “We have discussed these specific issues in three expert group meetings (June, September and 1 December) and prepared guidance in all languages.

“The final version has been put at the disposal of the member states on 4th December 2020 (in English) and on 23rd December in all other languages (Annex 42 of the Practical Handbook for Border Guards).

The guidance sets out how to identify beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement before these beneficiaries are in possession of a residence document issued in accordance with the Withdrawal Agreement for the purpose of not stamping their passports.”

“We have also prepared a document containing all specimen which will evidence that a person is a beneficiary of the Withdrawal Agreement before being in possession of the document issued in accordance with the Withdrawal Agreement (Annex 43 of the Practical Handbook for Border Guards) based on the input received by Member States. This document has been transmitted to the Member States on 15th December (and updated on 21st December).”

 

Entitled to compensation

The EU Commission said any British traveller who was denied entry to a plane after failing to prove legal residency is entitled to compensation.

“We have also transmitted the information on future rules and provided the specimen to the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s TIMATIC which provides carriers with information about entry procedures and visa requirements in all countries of the world. The onus is on airlines to apply the new rules correctly.

“UK nationals who have been denied boarding by an EU air carrier can seek compensation as well as reimbursement of their ticket or re-routing under Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, unless where the air carrier can prove in the specific case at hand that the denied boarding was based on reasonable grounds related to e.g. inadequate travel documentation.

“Please note that Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 would not apply to those denied boarding by UK carriers from January 1st, 2021. In this case, possible rights in case of denied boarding should be assessed on the basis of UK legislation.”

A stamp is no threat residency 

The final message from the Commission is that an erroneous passport stamp will not put residency rights into question.

It also said British nationals can ask border guards to cross out stamps, as some have done, according to reports we have received.

However, once again, it appears British travellers might have to explain themselves if those immigration officials have not read the “Practical Handbook for Border Guards”.

“If the beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement can provide evidence that they have been incorrectly stamped, the stamp can be annulled by the border guard as explained in the Practical Handbook for Border Guards (see p. 68/69 of the Handbook).

“However, depending on national practices, some Member States may still stamp passports of beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement, even if they hold notified documents: Member States may stamp residence permit they issued themselves and if this possibility is provided by national law.

“In any case, a wrong stamp in a passport can never put into question the right to reside in the host Member State.”

 

Member comments

  1. Of course going the other way, you are on your own. Priti Patel will doubtless deport you if you overstay an erroneous stamp even if you have UK residency established. Wouldn’t be the first time.

  2. While not claiming residency rights, well not yet, we have had a home in Provence for nearly 50 years, have paid taxe d’abitation, and VAT, have a bank account and have,’till now spent 4 or 5 months in France. We have been deprived of our citizenship of Europe and access to our home and assume we must now apply for a visa.

  3. It seems that some people have had the best of both worlds and want their cake and eat it. If you have a home in an EU country besides a home in the UK, you can obviously afford to sort out your residency from the UK before you go back to your EU-country home. Also, you must have known something like the situation you are in would happen, once the referendum vote was announced – that’s four and half years ago. I sorted mine out long ago, even though I was in favour of the UK leaving the EU. I dislike the Schengen Agreement and see it as a way for a (Dis)United States of Europe, which will dilute each countries identity into dust.

    By the way, the two correspondents’ names – Robert Altinger and Raymond Attfield – sound like a psuedonym of each other. A coincidence?

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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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