Activists have warned that tens of thousands of British citizens living in France and three other countries are at risk of losing local health care, employment and other rights if they do not apply to remain as residents in the next 14 days.
British in Europe, a group created to protect the post-Brexit rights of roughly 1.2 million UK citizens living on the continent, has asked France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Malta to extend their June 30 deadline. , as Holland has done, to October 30.
“We believe that the deadline should be extended even at this last stage, because it is taking away people’s rights, which is very serious,” said the group’s co-founder, Jane Golding, a lawyer living in Germany.
“There is a special duty of care and no one should fall through the cracks. This will affect access to healthcare, pensions, property rentals, the ability to obtain mortgages, jobs – all the same kinds of problems that will affect EU citizens living in the UK. “
The largest number of British citizens vulnerable to loss of rights is in France, where, according to the British embassy, 135,000 Britons have applied for post-Brexit residency out of an estimated population of 148,300, leaving at least 13,300 at risk. The new permit will be mandatory from October 1.
French and UK officials admit that because France does not require EU citizens to register, the actual number of Britons living in the country can be much higher, and it is also much more difficult to contact them than in countries like the Netherlands, before Brexit EU registration schemes.
Before Brexit, UK citizens had the automatic right to live, work, study and retire in another EU member state. But those free movement rights were discarded in the tough Brexit deal struck by Boris Johnson and Britons who were legally residing in some EU member states before December 31, 2020 must formally apply for a new status.
Activists say neither the French nor the British governments, which have conducted information campaigns, including outreach events through embassies and resident groups and advertisements on social media, newspapers, radio and billboards, have so far done the same. enough to raise awareness.
In France, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office placed ads in 30 regional newspapers over the weekend and has more planned for the next fortnight, while a virtual celebration of the Queen’s birthday on June 24 will also offer support and Guidance to any citizen you have has not yet been applied.
“With only two weeks to apply for residency in France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Malta, we urge UK citizens living in those countries to apply for residency now, if they have not already done so,” said a government spokesman. from United Kingdom.
“Support is available to anyone who needs help applying for it. Even if they are missing documents, they should request and explain them on the application form. The important thing is to apply. Guidance is available at the ‘Live in’ guides on gov.uk website.”
However, activists say the UK campaign was late and will not reach those who need it most. “The ads they are running are being produced centrally. The last one featured a picture of four older people walking on a cold beach in Sweden, ”said Kalba Meadows of France Rights, part of the British in Europe organization.
“It really is not an appropriate message. It’s just not going to reach the kinds of people we care most about: those who have been here for 40 or 50 years, or the youngest who grew up here, have French spouses and children. None of them consider themselves British, and there are many. “
Meanwhile, the French government has done “next to nothing,” Meadows said: “We believe they may have breached their obligations under the withdrawal agreement.”
There was “no outreach or awareness campaign, everything was left to civil society groups, and we are confined to social media,” Meadows said. “We are really concerned that there will be a large number of undocumented British immigrants in France within two weeks.”
According to the third report of the UK-EU specialized committee When it comes to citizens’ rights, less than half of the 1,200 Britons in Latvia had applied, only 8,300 of the 13,600 in Malta had applied for status and 3,600 of the 5,300 Britons in Luxembourg.
The British in Europe said they had no specific information on how British citizens who became undocumented immigrants would be treated, or what the immediate practical consequences would be.
EU member states must also specify whether they will allow late applications for “reasonable reasons” and what those reasons may be, Golding said.
“There will be people who, let’s say, have been married to an EU citizen and live somewhere for years, then become widowed or perhaps have had to go to a nursing home, plus they are not online,” he said.
“They just won’t know they need to do this until they are asked for a document to access medical care, for example,” he said. “Others are integrated and may not consider this to be for them; they will not realize that their residency documents are no longer valid due to Brexit.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism