On the 23rd of June of 2016, a referendum on the UK took place. This referendum asked the British citizens whether they wanted to continue being part of the European Union or not. 51,9% of the population voted in favor to leave, generating what we call Brexit (Britain + Exit). That, for sure, has its consequences; and the immigration field will suffer them notably. The relevant question is: what will happen to UK citizens living in Spain after Brexit takes place? In this post, we are going to detail exactly that.
BACKGROUND: BREXIT NEGOTIATIONS AND TIMING
As we have mentioned, the referendum took place in June 2016. It was not until March of the following year, after some bureaucratic procedures took place, that things didn’t keep moving. Then, a two-year negotiation period started with the European Union. This negotiation was carried by two technical teams of negotiators, one representing the UK and the other one the EU.
As Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union states, “Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.”
Respecting this article, the UK parliament sent an agreement proposal on three occasions. That got rejected the three times.
Seeing how difficult reaching a plausible agreement was, both parties decided to extend the negotiation period until the 31st of October. If If a deal between the two parties is made before that time, there would be a one-month period before it starts applying.
The real question is: what will happen with the more than 300.000 British citizens that are resident in the Spanish territory?. Right now, they are residents as European citizens, will that still be the case? Will they keep the same rights?
There is no clear answer to this question. As negotiations are still on the air, we are not certain about anything. We need to wait to see what will be the final outcome of the situation, how will the UK end in relation to the EU, and under which conditions. Furthermore, how the Spanish government will react is something of huge importance too here.
THE BOE THAT CLEARS (MANY) DOUBTS
Nevertheless, on the 2nd of March of 2019, the Spanish Government published a BOE that tries to eradicate many of the worries and doubts of the UK citizens. This BOE briefly touches how will Spain react regarding Brexit and how will this country grant rights to the British citizens in the country.
We are gonna base our analysis on this BOE.
THE OUTCOME: 3 POSSIBLE SCENARIOS
There are three possible scenarios after the Brexit negotiations. Understanding them is key in order to define what will happen to UK citizens residents in Spain.
First scenario: no agreement
The next elections on the European Parliament will take place in May 2019. The UK has clearly announced how their intention is to leave before that time. But seeing how difficult negotiations are developing, it is possible that no agreement takes place before then.
In that case, elections will take place in the UK, and that might completely change the situation.
Second scenario: the UK goes out of the European Union with an agreement
In fact, this agreement is done, but the parliament of the UK does not confirm it. In this agreement, a transitory period of two years will be established.
In it, the most important rights, like immigration and economic rights, will be kept for British citizens the same as if they were European. Nevertheless, once that period ends, those citizens won’t be considered European anymore.
And we don’t clearly know what will happen to their rights then. Each country will be able to set its own terms and policies, and we still need to wait to see what will the Spanish government defines.
Third scenario: the UK goes out of the EU without an agreement
For this situation, the Spanish government approved a law in which they say they would open a parallel register for UK citizens as if they were Europeans. This means that all British citizens in Spain will keep their rights.
Nevertheless, they will still need to change their conditions and their residence permits from the European type to the non-EU one. But it won’t be a problem. The ones who would like to get the green card, for example, will have to go through a separate register, but that requires the exact same documents as before.
Nevertheless, that was the answer of the government, talking in general terms. They defined that, in the case this is the scenario is the one taking place, they will do an instruction specifying with more depth what will happen and what should UK citizens do.
As we have seen, there is no reason to think that British citizens will have any problem after the Brexit in Spain. In both scenarios 2 and 3, the government will ensure they still keep their rights as resident citizens in Spain, and those entering the country won’t have any problem in doing so.
Nevertheless, you must be cautious. There are some issues you must be aware of, and act accordingly. In this situation of uncertainty, our advice is to act as soon as possible and prevent. But, how exactly?
HOW TO BE PREPARED FOR BREXIT IN SPAIN: 3 IMPORTANT PIECES OF ADVICE
In order to perfectly be prepared for Brexit, we are going to give you three crucial pieces of advice. Both the ambassador of UK in Spain as well as the consulate have confirmed this information. That is why is so important you execute these three actions in front of an uncertainty scenario.
1. First of all. Those who do not have the green card and the NIE, do it as soon as possible. It is much better to do it now, enjoying the easiness of the legal procedure that being a European citizen brings within. If you wait until the negotiations are over, the process can be much tougher.
2. Those who have been living in Spain for 5 years with the green card must get permanent residency as soon as possible. We don’t know exactly if it is going to be possible afterwards, and it is a much safer path to normalize the situation now.
3. Finally, a tip that applies after Brexit takes place. And that is to be careful and update for the change: you will need to update your residence permit. As we have said, there will be a period of two years in which you will maintain your rights, and be considered European for that purpose. Nevertheless, you will need to change your card, as after the period you won’t be European. Then, the required procedure will be going to the Spanish Immigration Office and changing the card for another one, as the European won’t be valid.
OTHER RELEVANT ISSUES CONCERNING HOW WILL THE NEW LIFE OF BRITISH CITIZENS BE IN SPAIN AFTER BREXIT
Finally, we are going to tackle some other relevant issues that define the normal life of a UK citizen in Spain, and how that is likely to change as a consequence of Brexit.
THE PROBLEM WITH THE WORK PERMIT
What will happen with the work permit application process?
Because there is something worth considering. We know that for non-European Union citizens, like Russians for example, the process to get the work permit is really tough. A lot of requirements, tons of documents to present…
Conversely, for European Union citizens, the application procedure is really easy. French citizens, Germans or Italians, with their European passport, can get a work permit in Spain in just 24 hours.
What would happen to British citizens if the UK is no longer a European Union country?
Well, there is a third situation, the case of countries like Andorra. These countries are not from the European Union, but do enjoy speacial treaties with Spain. And that enables them to get their residence permit as easily as if they were Europeans.
We have some signs to say that something similar would happen to the UK. The most probable outcome is that British citizens will, in the end, be assimilated as Europeans in regards to immigration. Therefore that will not constitute a problem.
Nevertheless, the instability that the Brexit created among Europea, inciting similar movements, may be a good reason for the European Union to punish the UK and make things difficult in this matter. We don’t know exactly what will happen, and things are still on the air.
WILL MY RIGHT TO WORK STILL BE GRANTED?
We have just talked about the case in which individuals would like to obtain a work permit after Brexit happens. But what about those who already possess one? Will they keep their right to work?
Because, as we have said, the right to live in Spain for UK citizens will still be granted. But what will happen with the right to work? That is something that is also specified in the announcement of the Spanish government: it will still be granted.
Nevertheless, you will have to change your card (residence and work authorization) into a non-European Union one.
FAMILY MEMBER OF A EU CITIZENS: SPECIAL CAVEAT
As you already know, one way to get a residence and work authorization in Spain is to be a family member of a European Union citizen. And that is how many non-EU citizens got their residence permit in the country: by being married to a UK citizen, for example.
But that is something that worked till today. What will happen after Brexit, as UK citizens are no longer European Union citizens?
Well, there is something for sure. Those non-EU citizens married to a UK citizen will also have to change the card. We assume their residency will be still granted, the same as the rights they had before, but they will need to change their status.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN WITH YOUR TAXES?
Another crucial issue: taxes.
Now, as a European Union resident, you don’t need to be in Spain 183 days a year to keep the green card. But non-EU citizens with a residence permit are required to be in the country at least 183 days to maintain the green card.
And that means becoming tax resident in Spain, therefore taxpayer in the country.
We still need to wait to see if an agreement between Spain and the UK will take place, maybe setting up a double treatment convention that eradicates this problem.
DRIVING LICENSE VALIDITY
Finally, something many are concerned about. The validity of their driving license. Will there be an automatic renewal or will it be disqualified as soon as Brexit happens? What we know is that, during this transitory period of 2 years, all these things like driving licenses, social security,… will remain protected.
But what happens if your driving license expires in 10 years, time by which the transitory period will have completely ended?
Then probably there will be a way to exchange to the European driving license. A lot of countries who are not from the EU, like Ukrania, can exchange the Ukranian one for the European one. Therefore, it is highly likely that you as a UK citizen will need to update for the new one as a non-European Union country.
MANY AREAS OF LIFE ARE ABOUT TO CHANGE
As you have seen, as Brexit starts implementing, many areas of the life of a UK citizen in Spain will start changing. Taxes, their legal status, social security…
And we cannot provide an answer that is certain a 100%, as the debate is still taking place.
Nevertheless, as immigration lawyers with tons of British clients, we can advise you and help you be prepared for the Brexit. That is why, if you would like to be secure and start normalizing your situation NOW, taking the preventive measures required, do not hesitate to contact us, we will be glad to help!