Photo: Iker Merodio via Flickr

After Brexit: Immigration Basics for UK Nationals in Germany

The UK has voted out. So what happens now?

In two short words: nobody knows. No country has ever left the EU before and there are no protocols in place for a state doing so. After last week’s vote to leave the EU, everyone involved is entering uncharted waters.

The good news is that the breakup is unlikely to be quick. Germany and the UK, specifically, are closely intertwined with one another: at least 100,000 Britons live in Germany and almost 300,000 Germans live in Britain. A deal will have to be negotiated to accommodate expats returning home — by choice or because they do not meet residency requirements — and that requires a lot of repatriation paperwork.

The Brexit process will likely take a minimum of 2 years, so you’ll have plenty of time to assess your situation. A new treaty certainly won’t come quickly, so there is no need to panic in the short term. Despite the vote, Britain will remain a member of the EU for several years, and UK residents of Germany or UK tourists traveling here do not need to make any changes overnight.

What will the new treaty look like? What could the implications be for UK nationals living in Germany right now?

There’s no way of knowing now what the new treaty will look like — whenever it comes. The last time (West) Germany and the UK had separate treaties from European wide agreements was the early 1970s. The death of British industry, re-unification, and the digital revolution have transformed the world into a very different place today.

Whatever future residency rights UK citizens have in Germany is also likely to be reciprocal — meaning that if the UK starts ejecting thousands of non/low-skilled German workers, Germany may choose to retaliate with similar measures. Because curbing immigration into the UK was a cornerstone of the “Leave” campaign, it’s possible that strict measures limiting the immigration of EU nationals into the UK will be put into place. If so, it is likely that the EU would put a similarly strict immigration system in place for UK nationals who want to live in the EU.

What could happen to residency rights for UK nationals living in Germany?

Even after leaving the EU, the UK is likely to retain some special privileges regarding residency in EU countries. Though any agreement will go through many rounds of intense negotiation, we can examine how some other “privileged” countries are handled* to get an idea of what options are possible.

  1. Swiss citizens enjoy freedom of movement within the EU thanks to a 1999 agreement between the EU and Swiss government. Although they do need to apply for a residency permit — the Aufenthaltserlaubnis-Schweiz — they don’t require the permission of the government to work (though they are asked to show they can support themselves financially, have health insurance, etc.).
  2. Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are members of the European Economic Area although not the EU. Their citizens also enjoy full freedom of movement within the EU and are not required to get any type of residency permit to live or work in Germany.
  3. Australia, New Zealand, Japan, S. Korea, Israel, Canada and the US — citizens of these so-called “privileged countries” can enter Germany visa-free for up to 90 days on a tourist basis, and then generally apply for a residency permit for work or studying from their local Ausländerbehörde in Germany. They do still face quite strict requirements in terms of proving they have professional work lined up, will earn plenty to support themselves, will have full health insurance, etc. Permission to stay in Germany can easily be denied if these requirements are not met.

I’m a UK national living in Germany. Is there anything I can do now to prepare for what’s to come?

Yes! As always, a good motto is “prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” Because UK citizens may, as other non-EU citizens do, need to show proof of income in Germany (work contracts or proof of freelance income), degrees or qualifications, and health insurance coverage in order to obtain a residency permit, it’s a very good idea to start getting your ducks in a row now.

Make sure you’re paying your taxes. Finish that university degree. Try to save up some money (as a rough guideline, the Berlin Ausländerbehörde requires €7,608 in the bank for a 1-year German language student permit). Try to ensure you have German-based clients so you’ll be able to prove you’re directly contributing to the local economy. Talk to an insurance broker about what type of health insurance coverage you may need in order to get a residency permit.

Now would also be a very useful time to start learning German if you haven’t done so yet. It will help you navigate the bureaucracy that’s coming your way.

Can I just become a German citizen?

If you have lived in Germany for at least 8 years, or in some special cases after only 6, you can apply for German citizenship. Plenty of other requirements must be met — you’ll need to prove you can financially support yourself, speak fluent German, pass the citizenship test, etc. If you’re interested in German citizenship, you should schedule an in-person meeting at the citizenship office (Staatsangehörigkeitsbehörde) in your neighborhood, as the checklist of requirements and documents you’ll need can vary depending on individual factors.

You might also be eligible for a French, Irish or Italian passport if one of your parents was born there, as this article from Quarz outlines.

How can I stay updated?

As you keep an eye on the official Brexit date, make sure you’ve researched your residency options and made a Plan A (and B and maybe C) at least 6 months before Britain will leave the EU.

The gov.UK page for Germany should continue to provide state updates on residency requirements, and — at a later date — you can also ask your local Ausländerbehörde in Germany for the exact requirements for your city in Germany.

*Residency permit and citizenship information is based on the guidelines for Berlin. Requirements may vary elsewhere in Germany.