Gone Missing: 90,000 Brits Disappear After Brexit


Tens of thousands of British expats risk losing their right to live and work in Europe as their time to apply for residence status under a Brexit agreement runs out.

Brits living in France, Malta, Luxembourg and Latvia face a June 30 deadline to claim their rights, while in The Netherlands, an extra three months has been granted, taking the last day to register until October 1.

The Brexit withdrawal agreement between the UK allows any Brit already resident in the European Union on December 31 to apply for permanent residence.

The EU is split into two camps – 14 states automatically agree resident status to British expats legally in their countries. These states include Spain, the most popular European expat destination, Germany, Portugal and Italy.

The other 13 have their own systems that demand Brits register to claim their rights. The first group set a June 1 deadline.

Lost in France – 26,000 British expats

But thousands of expats are cutting fine their time to sign up for residence with 90,339 applications still outstanding.

More than 25,000 of the estimated 148,000 Brits living in France have yet to come forward, while 800 need to sign up in Latvia, 1,700 in Luxembourg and 5,300 in Malta.

Other approaching deadlines include The Netherlands, where 3,000 Brits must come forward, and Finland and Sweden are waiting for an expected 12,000 Brits to make themselves known.

The next deadline for Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia is December 31.

Where are they now?

This table shows the EU head count of British expats in Europe on December 31 and how many that have applied for permanent residence.

The accuracy of the figures is unknown – the EU has a reputation for underestimating numbers of expats and migrants. 

For instance Denmark has had almost twice as many applications for residence from Brits as the estimated number of expats living in the country.

EU StateApplication deadlineResident expatsApplications ReceivedApplications Concluded
AustriaDecember 3111,5003,1001,700
BelgiumDecember 3122,400900No data
DenmarkDecember 311,9003,4001,500
FinlandSeptember 305,0002,8001,000
FranceJune 30148,300122,80073,700
LatviaJune 301,200421320
LuxembourgJune 305,3003,6002,900
HungaryDecember 315,800800700
MaltaJune 3013,6008,3005,000
The NetherlandsOctober 0145,00036,70036,200
RomaniaDecember 313,000432370
SloveniaDecember 3190010888
SwedenSeptember 3017,0007,2004,000
Totals: 280,900190,561127,473
Source:  Specialised Committee on Citizens’ Rights

What are residence rights for expats?

The UK and Europe have two systems running in tandem.

The countries listed in the table above run a constitutive system which asks expats in the EU on December 31, 2020, to apply for residence by swapping residence documents for biometric cards against a deadline.

The rest of the EU runs a declaratory system without a deadline that allows any British expat resident on December 31, 2020, to carry on living in Europe.

What the Withdrawal Agreement says

The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is the document that guarantees the rights of expats and their families in Europe.

The guarantee promises to offer broadly the same rights as expats had to live and work in Europe prior to Brexit.

Expats gain their rights protection if on December 31, 2020, they:

  • Worked in the EU – including self-employed workers
  • Have financial resources and medical cover to pay their way without becoming a burden on the state where they live
  • Already have the right to permanent residence without conditions

If an expat does not have a right to residence because they have lived in the EU for fewer than five years, they can continue living in Europe and become permanent residents after the five years has passed.

The EU has published detailed lists of frequently asked questions for each country’s residence scheme for British expats.

Brexit promise not kept, say campaigners

Expat group British in Europe claims EU governments running the constructive residence system have failed to keep a promise that expat lives would not change because of Brexit.

Instead, they claim expat rights have been ‘watered down’.

“It is clear that thousands of UK citizens who are currently legally resident in their host states face waking up on July 1 as undocumented migrants,” said a spokesman for the group.

“They could be fired from their jobs, made homeless, and lose access to social security, student grants and loans, and non-emergency healthcare yet no-one has spelled out the consequences of missing the deadline.”

The campaigners are also calling on EU governments to extend all June deadlines until December 31 to allow more British expats time to apply for residence status.

Vulnerable expats at risk

The comments were echoed by Michaela Benson, a professor of public sociology at Lancaster University, who specialises in studying British residents in the EU.

“That’s only a month to go before a hard deadline, after which a lot of people could lose their rights,” she said.

“We urgently need more communication – from the UK, the EU and member states – to get in touch, especially with hard-to-reach, vulnerable UK citizens who risk missing a vital cut-off point.”

“The people at risk of falling through the gaps were often the most vulnerable.  Those who have stayed off the radar for whatever reason – maybe because they couldn’t prove they were lawfully resident when they had to.

“The ones to worry about are those who are just scraping by, perhaps in remote areas. They are not likely to come forward of their own accord. There will also be homeless British people, sick British people, British children in care.”

British expats and Withdrawal Agreement FAQ

Below are a selection of some of the most asked questions:

Can residence who moved to the EU post-Brexit apply for residence?

Yes, but the rules for applying for residence are different. They have no right to stay that expats enjoy who were in the EU by December 31, 2020.
Post-Brexit, the UK has become a ‘third country’ and any applications for residence are treated the same as those from any other country outside the EU.

What is the grace period?

The grace period starts on January 1, 2021 and lasts until a country’s constitutive deadline passes. During this time, expats and their families have a continued right of residence and can only be removed if they commit a serious crime.

How do I complain about my rights under the Withdrawal Agreement?

If you feel you are a victim of discrimination and your rights have been violated under the Withdrawal Agreement you should complain to the appropriate authority in the country which you consider has carried out the violation.

Which countries operate a declaratory residence scheme?

The EU states running a declaratory residence scheme are Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Slovakia.

Do British expats still have freedom of movement within the EU?

No, British expats do not have the right to freedom of movement within the EU unless they have become EU nationals or are resident in an EU state.

I’ve lost my job; can I stay on as an EU resident?

Yes, IF you are already resident, you can stay on and look for a new job.
If you arrived in the EU before midnight on December 31, 2020, you have six months to look for work or can apply for more time if you have a genuine chance of being hired.

I became an EU resident in 2017 – what does Brexit change for me?

The Withdrawal Agreement guarantees your right to stay in the EU, but if you live in a country with a constitutive residence scheme, you may have to reapply for residence to confirm your status.

I work in the EU; can I retire here as well?

If you have lived and worked in the EU for at least five years you have the right to retire, but you may still have to register under a constitutive scheme.
If you have worked for less than five years, you can stay and become resident when five years has passed.

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