With Britain’s exit from the European Union looming, Swiss citizens in the UK are facing an administrative challenge that will determine their right to stay in their adopted home. What will they have to do to secure their future in the UK after Brexit?
A citizens’ rights agreementexternal link signed by the UK and Switzerland in February has gone far in assuring the respective citizens on both sides that they can stay put in the other’s country. It guarantees existing rights for both groups, where these people are already living in each other’s countries. However, Swiss citizens in the UK will have to apply for “settled statusexternal link”.
What is settled status?
Swiss citizens living in the UK have to apply for settled status before June 30, 2021. This status can be granted only to Swiss (and EU) citizens who have been living in the UK for five years. It centres on three points: confirming your identity, providing evidence of five years’ residency, and a criminal record check.
Those who haven’t been in the UK long enough can apply for “pre-settled status”. This grants people the same rights as those with settled status, but they will have to make another application – this time for the full settled status – once they reach the five-year mark.
How can people apply?
A pilot scheme started last year, where people could apply using a mobile phone app called “EU Exit: ID Verification Check”. During the pilot scheme the app was available only on Android phones. The scheme will open fully by March 30, 2019, and there will be no application fee after an outrage caused a government U-turnexternal link.
It’s a digital-only system, and successful applicants will receive a number to prove they have been granted settled status. The scheme has so far attracted a lot of criticismexternal link concerning its ease of use and accessibility, and how practical a digital number is for foreign citizens to prove their right to be in a country. Physical document-checking centres have opened and a postal service will be introduced at the end of March.
What happens if there’s no deal, or if Brexit is delayed?
The British parliament has so far twice rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposed deal for the UK to leave the EU. Although British MPs (members of parliament) ruled out a no-deal Brexit in mid-March, this vote wasn’t legally binding. The existing Brexit deadline of March 29 is legally binding, however. And although MPs also voted in mid-March in favour of delaying Brexit, all 27 EU member states would have to agree to an extension. Watch this space.
The citizens’ rights agreement still applies in case of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. If this happens, only Swiss citizens who were already living in the UK by March 29, 2019 will be eligible to apply, and the deadline for applications would move forward to December 31, 2020.
Is the situation clear for the Swiss Abroad?
On Twitter the respondents were fewer, and the response more divided.
Our poll sparked an informative response from the Swiss Embassy in the UK.
In a Facebook group for Swiss living in the UK, we posed the same question; here the response was mainly positive with many people praising what the Swiss Embassy in the UK has done to make sure they’re informed.
One member of the group wrote, “I feel well informed, but then again I’ve actively looked for the info. I really appreciated the Swiss Embassy’s livestream a few weeks back, it more than anything helped me feel less anxious about the whole process.”
Another member commented: “There was regular information from the embassy via Facebook and email. If you read that, you are as well informed as possible…I can’t tell what happens with people without internet access though.”
Jerome Robert, who owns a watch company in the UK, said “in theory” he’s clear on what he needs to do to achieve settled status. In an email conversation he told swissinfo.ch “the Swiss confederation are informing us as well as they can, the problem is the lack of clarity 14 days before Brexit that makes the situation so disruptive from a personal point of view and in terms of business”.
In a written statement in response to a request for comment, the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) said: “The OSA is in regular contact with the Consular Directorate in order to keep abreast of developments and inform about the needs of the Swiss Abroad. We use our communication channels to relay useful information.”
Any last advice?
The onus seems to be on the Swiss Abroad to make sure they are informed about any action they need to take. Register with the Swiss Embassy in the UK or sign up for their email updatesexternal link, follow their accounts on Facebookexternal link and Twitterexternal link, and read the FAQexternal link published online. Printed information has been made available in the Swiss Reviewexternal link magazine.