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How Brexit may affect the French living in the UK?
Two weeks after the vote to leave the European Union, it is clear that Brexit is going to impact everyone in the UK. The country’s political parties are in mayhem, the currency has plummeted and there has been a noticeable uptick in the number of reported xenophobic incidents. Although life for all Britons will have been changed forever, nothing could be more true for EU citizens living in this country, many of whom will have to plan ahead quickly if they want to remain in the UK after Brexit.
A conference at Imperial College on 2 July, organised by Senator Olivier Cadic and Consular Delegate Patricia Connell, put a team of lawyers (William Healing, Katie Newbury and Andrew Tingley) specialised in UK immigration law face to face with a crowd of 600 worried French nationals.
Audience members were able to ask for information and guidance with regards to their status now and after Brexit.
Consular Delegate Patricia Connell and the lawyers
Here are some of the most frequent concerns:
What is the status of EU citizens until Brexit?
Until the UK has effectively left the EU, the rights of EU citizens in the country have not changed. However, the lawyers warned that, in the unlikely event of mass immigration to the country by Britons living in other EU states, there could be a halt to the free movement of people under “special conditions”, as the union allows.
The lawyers also advised French citizens in the UK to claim, if eligible, British nationality to secure their right to stay in the country after Brexit.
Patricia Connell talks about her personal experience
and why she got engaged in politics for the first time
How can I claim UK nationality?
An EU citizen is eligible for UK nationality if he or she is either a student, worker, jobseeker or self-sufficient.
Firstly, an EU citizen must obtain a document certifying permanent residence in the UK (form EEA PR), available from the Home Office after application.Then, an EU citizen must show that he or she has resided for a minimum of 5 years in the UK to be eligible to become a British national. The individual can prove this with bank statements or transaction records for example, which would point to a presence in the country for 5 years or more. Any individual wanting to claim UK nationality can not have been absent for the country for 450 days over the past 5 years, or 6 months over the past year.
Processing time for granting UK nationality usually takes 6 months, but is likely to increase with a big increase in requests following the Brexit vote.
Are there any “side-effects” to claiming UK nationality?
If you are a French citizen living in the UK then no, as France allows its citizens to have dual-nationality. However, obtaining UK nationality will make it difficult for any individual to bring a non-EU partner or family member to the country, as they won’t be able to rely on EU rights.
Are my children British?
Any child born in the UK before the 2nd of October 2000 is considered British. If the child was born before 29th April 2006, then a document proving the parent’s indefinite right to remain in the UK is needed for the child to be naturalised. Children born from the 30th of April 2006 onwards can automatically claim UK citizenship if their parent previously held a document certifying their permanent residence. Children can also be registered for naturalisation if they were born in the UK and have spent the first ten years of their life in the country.
What if I do not want to become British? What are my options?
More information will soon be available on the website www.frenchintheuk.com. The website is not online yet, as it is still being developed.
The lawyers explained that - although precaution was necessary, especially in such uncertain times - politically UK leaders would have trouble in jeopardising EU citizens’ stay in the country, as 3 million already live in the UK and another million Britons live across the European Union.
The conference was noticeably tense: the crowd often laughed nervously when learning about the UK’s complex procedures on immigration law, and was marked by the odd-outburst from unsatisfied members of the audience - one shouted “what happens if they take our homes and close our businesses?”
Indeed, the event was one of great importance. The organisers explained that they had received over 8,000 requests for attendance, and they had to change venue and add a second session.
One might wonder why London’s French Consulate wasn’t involved in the organising of the conference. The issue was briefly mentioned by Mrs Connell, but nevertheless caused ripples in the crowd, with audience members clearly frustrated by the lack of assistance the Consulate had proposed after the Brexit vote.
UDI Senator Olivier Cadic explained Brexit to French people
In his opening speech, Olivier Cadic - Senator who represents French citizens living abroad - stated that French Consulates were closing all over the world. Edinburgh has already been affected, and now French citizens living in Scotland will have to travel to London to update their French ID cards. The same problems have arisen in El Salvador, where - following the closure of the French Consulate there - the nearest consulate is in the neighbouring country’s capital Guatemala City and in order to get there from El Salvador, people will have to take one of the most dangerous roads in Latin America.
Brexit will remain the UK’s predominant concern for at least the next two years, as politicians squabble over the terms of the country’s exit from the union. But leaving the European Union won’t only affect those in Westminster and Brussels. If anything, EU citizens in the United Kingdom face a more uncertain future than anyone. They are the primary victims of a decision they weren’t allowed to have a say in.
William Healing, Andrew Tingley and Katie Newbury during the Q&A session