OPINION: It’s heart-breaking that millions of Brits may never get the opportunities I have had

British people have woken up a little less free this morning, as the door slams shut on our European freedom of movement.

OPINION: It's heart-breaking that millions of Brits may never get the opportunities I have had
Photo: AFP
That means that millions of people will be denied the opportunities that I, many of my colleagues at The Local and thousands of others have been afforded – to move to another country, travel, work, fall in love and in build new lives.
Growing up, I never really considered the option of moving abroad and I don't come from the sort of family money that means I could spend an extended period without working as an adult. If I was ever to do any travelling more serious than a fortnight on a beach, I would have to work as I did it – and freedom of movement meant that I could do just that.
I've been lucky enough to move to France (twice) and end up where I am now – doing a job that I love in Paris.
The first time I moved I didn't even give it much thought –  in 2011 I moved to southern France largely on a whim – and speaking barely a word of French – to take up a job I'd been offered.
From today, the door has slammed shut on many other Brits who might have been thinking of their own off-the-cuff French adventure.
Sure, moving to France after Brexit as a Brit will of course still be possible, but it will become a matter of visas, residency cards and a significant level of expense.
These are not 'new rules' – they are the rules already in place for non-European citizens like Americans, Canadians and Australians.
And a lot of them manage to move to France – but only after months of dealing with visas, followed by the complex French residency paperwork that freedom of movement made unnecessary for British citizens.
As well as the paperwork, there's also a financial aspect.
Visas themselves can be expensive (as well as the cost of the document you will usually need to pay a certified translator to translate your supporting documents) but many of them also carry requirements for you to demonstrate 'sufficient means' – ie have a not-insignificant amount of savings or income.
Employers have to jump through extra hoops when hiring non EU staff, meaning that although there will still be jobs here they will be harder for Brits to get.
So will you be able to move to France without working? Yes, but again you will need to prove that you have money in the bank.
Even if you find work after you have arrived and sorted out residency you will still need a substantial pot of cash to finance yourself for the months when you are not earning.
Frequently in France you meet people who moved here for a couple of months to do odd jobs back in 1992 and are still here; or who shacked up with a Frenchman they met on holiday and are now married with seven kids; or who came as penniless students for an Erasmus year, fell in love and never left. None of those types of story will continue. 
As for people who want to retire to France, they too will need either a generous private pension or a significant amount of savings to meet the income requirements.
Many of the British retirees who live here now – people who have worked all their life in reasonably low-paying jobs, often in the public sector – will simply not qualify under the new regime.
While those who want to buy a place in France just to visit will find themselves constrained by the 90-day rule from today.
All of which means that moving countries and building a life beyond the confines of your childhood will become available to a much narrower group of people – those with money.
While for tens of thousands of people of more modest means it will remain a dream forever out of reach.

Member comments

  1. Thank you Emma, this piece is spot on. As my fellow Sheffielder Phil Oakey wrote: These are the things that dreams are made of. I’m rather older than you and I remember what Europe used to be like before freedom of movement: it was full of tedious formalities that have now returned. Yes, you could do the Eurorail thing but there were still strict limits. Schengen blew all that away. Even more, I spent a good deal of time in the 60s and 70s travelling for study and work to Eastern Europe and the then USSR and that was far worse. My generation was the first in the UK that knew the benefits of European travel without getting shot at or having to shoot other people. For the last 28 years I’ve just loved being a European. My wife and I planned to have our retirements on the Cote d’Azur and bought an apartment in Nice a few years back before that damned vote, now our choice is either 90 days in any six months or take up French residence and get French taxation which will play havoc with our no longer tax exempt SIPPS and ISAs. And all because some people got pissed off with hearing people speaking Polish in Tesco or whatever. The economic downside of Brexit is going to be hard but right now for me it’s the end to freedom of movement that really hurts: I knew the world when it was bad, then it became good and it was sheer delight, now it’s gone bad again, we’re shut out and everybody else can have fun but not us. Sod it. We’ll be back some time I suppose but not, I fear, in my lifetime.
    Oh well, tell us all about it Phil, music hath charms and all that:

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.