New Brexit migration borders ‘break ties’ of mixed UK-EU families


Brexit is not over for many Anglo-European families, even two and a half years after the UK left the European Union.

“One of us is a British citizen and the other is an EU citizen. And we lost the right to migrate as a family,” said a Briton living in Belgium, quoted in a new report – the last for MIGZEN project explore the long-term impacts of Brexit on migration.

“Husband and daughter cannot return to the UK and live there with me,” said a Briton, currently in France.

The divorce agreement which set out the terms of Britain’s departure was meant to cement the existing rights of Europeans living in the UK and Britons on the Continent, despite the end of the principle of free movement of workers.

But the research study reveals high levels of anxiety among ‘mixed-status’ families – mainly when one partner is British, the other European. Just over a fifth of respondents said they were in such a relationship.

“Anglo-European families after Brexit” draws on the testimony of over 400 UK and EU nationals to explore the impact of changing status within families on their lives.

It found that six years after the EU referendum, half said differences in citizenship and migration status affected their decisions to move or stay put. There were still strong negative feelings about rights issues and anxiety about losing the freedom to move between countries in the future.

Depending on their previous migration status, Brexit has ‘introduced new borders’ or ‘reinforced the impacts of borders on their lives’, say report authors Dr Elena Zambelli and Professor Michaela Benson of Lancaster University , and Professor Nando Sigona from the University of Birmingham. .

“This reveals further impacts of Brexit at the family level, creating, fracturing and rebuilding their ties in one or more countries and affecting their own mobility and settlement options as well as those of their family members. like a family.”

Britons in the EU can no longer move freely between countries

“Getting around and traveling has become much more difficult,” said a Briton living in Italy, quoted in the report.

“I feel more attached to staying where I live now because it’s not so easy for us to move elsewhere,” said a British national living in the Netherlands.

The Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU reached before Britain left the EU in January 2020 protected the rights of EU nationals living in the UKand Britons living on the Continent.

It protects residency and social security rights for them and their family members, and maintained freedom of movement until the end of the transition period at the end of 2020. People already resident on that date were allowed to stay and apply for permanent residency after five years.

However, for Britons in the EU, while the deal guarantees rights in host countries, it does not grant any automatic rights to move to other EU countries to live and work.

“The UK’s departure from the EU marked the loss for UK citizens of their EU citizenship and with it the privileged intra-EU mobility rights it conferred on them,” the report said.

“For mixed families including members of directly affected populations, the consequences of Brexit go beyond rights retained or lost individually, and survey responses reveal how positions, feelings, orientations, choices and the constraints of their limbs are deeply intertwined.”

Seven in ten respondents were British citizens, three-quarters of whom lived in an EU or EEA (European Economic Area) country. The remaining quarter were in the UK or a British Overseas Territory.

New Brexit rules force families to change plans

The report found that family reasons predominated in people’s decision to change country since the Brexit vote in 2016 – and this was higher among mixed-status families than among those with the same nationality.

Some have advanced their plans due to changes in residency rules. A German woman with dual Anglo-German nationality said her family had moved from Luxembourg to Germany before the deadline at the end of the transition period, to be “in the same country as my elderly mother and sister, so we won’t have any problems later”.

Almost three-quarters of people from mixed families said Brexit had affected their migration plans. Some left the UK because they “no longer felt in a welcoming environment”.

‘I moved to be with my partner and child as the environment in the UK for foreigners had become toxic since Brexit,’ said a dual British-Italian man, who moved to the Czech Republic .

Mobility constrained by Brexit

Some left the UK for the EU due to Brexit, but then decided to stay in the same place for the foreseeable future in order to protect their rights. “Now I would be a little more reluctant to move without a valid reason, because I will lose my rights to the Withdrawal Agreement,” said a Briton in her 30s living in Denmark.

Others have changed nationality to safeguard their rights or avoid being deprived of career or retirement plans.

“After Brexit we realized that my retirement or work in the EU would be impossible, so I became a Belgian citizen,” said a woman with dual Anglo-Belgian nationality in Belgium.

For some mixed families based in the UK, contemplating a future move to the EU brings new burdens, as well as the risk of losing newly acquired rights.

“My husband is British and I am Swedish. He has lost his freedom of movement in the EU,” said a Swedish woman living in the UK. “If we move to the EU, I will now have to show that I can support my husband. If I leave the UK for more than five years, I will lose my EU settlement status.”

The report cites people expressing a wide variety of concerns about their status, the loss of future rights such as health care or pensions, or dilemmas about potential moves. Others complain about the bureaucracy involved in securing their residency rights.

All have a common difficult situation: they see their future mobility constrained by Brexit.

Transition from “mobile” families to “migrant” families

The report states that the testimonies of the families reflect a “transition of the members of portable families to members of immigrants families,” highlighting the feeling that the right to move freely to live and work in other countries was being lost, replaced by a second-class arrangement.

The concerns aren’t just about residency: even traveling between countries is sometimes seen as a potential problem.

“I’m worried about traveling with my child who is an EU citizen. That’s not the case,” said a Briton in Denmark.

“We are supposed to leave the children alone in a different passport queue than ours – ridiculous concept,” commented a German woman living in the UK.

Others were still concerned about post-Brexit changes to UK rules under which, since March 2022, non-UK spouses or family members of UK citizens returning to the UK are subject to immigration controls national law relating to family reunification.

‘We had planned to return to the UK when my husband retired (around 2041) but now think it is more likely that we will stay in NL for the rest of our lives,’ said a Briton living in the Netherlands.

“Our marriage will have to end”

For some, Brexit appears to have created or deepened divisions within the family, with differences in status engendering negative emotions. “Our marriage (since 2003) will have to end,” concluded a German woman living in the UK who wants to return to her home country, while her British husband does not want to move if it means becoming a family member. a “third country”. — in other words, a non-EU citizen living in the EU.

The report ‘British-European Families after Brexit’ says it sets out how Brexit has imposed borders around European families, severing ties to countries and affecting people’s mobility and settlement options.

He concludes that the effects will be felt well into the future.

“Going forward, some of the tensions highlighted in this report may become more salient as respondents move through different stages of their lives. In particular, issues of status dependency, elder care and retirement can become sources of frustration, regret and/or discord between spouses and partners.

“For UK citizens in the EU who have been granted temporary residency and EU citizens in the UK who have been granted pre-settled status under the Withdrawal Agreement, there remain lingering uncertainties as to what will happen when it expires and what effects it will have on the mixed-status families they are part of.”

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