Brits in Switzerland wonder about their rights amid Brexit countdown

No matter their views on Brexit, Brits in Switzerland need to know where they stand. EPA/NEIL HALL

Can British citizens in Switzerland feel reassured about their post-Brexit situation following a complicated deal between Switzerland and the UK? Embassy officials are working to clarify the situation, but several issues remain unresolved. 

This content was published on January 15, 2019 - 08:00

A citizens' rights dealExternal link between Switzerland and the UK, agreed in DecemberExternal link, is said to “broadly” protect the existing rights of UK citizens living in Switzerland, and vice versa, after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union on March 29. The agreement – which will apply even if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal – also takes into account some 2,600 British cross-border workers who commute into Switzerland from neighbouring countries (they will still have to comply with residency rules in the country where they live).

Jane Owen, the British ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, spoke to ahead of a series of “roadshow” events being held across Switzerland to answer Brits’ questions about Brexit. She discussed what wasn’t included in the citizens’ rights agreement, and whether life will only “broadly” continue as normal, a phrase that has been used in embassy communications.

Can Brits in Switzerland stay here?

Yes. Their permits will be extended as they previously would have been and they will still have the same access to jobs, healthcare, and social security. The ambassador also confirmed that British nationals will not have to re-register in Switzerland (unlike Swiss in the UK). 

More tricky, however, is when these British citizens’ lives intersect with the EU, for work or trade reasons for example –  issues that are still to be agreed upon between the UK and the EU, and that are outside the scope of a bilateral Swiss-UK arrangement. In the absence of a divorce deal, some things simply haven’t been agreed yet.

What happens in the future?

The embassy couldn’t yet give concrete information on what will happen post-Brexit for British citizens who want to move to Switzerland, or for Swiss spouses or partners of British citizens who may relocate to the UK.

Dave Goodman is a British national who’s lived in Switzerland for close to eight years; this is an issue that concerns him. He plans to attend the Geneva stop on the embassy’s roadshow, and told that he wants to find out more about the arrangements that Switzerland has already made with the UK, and how this will impact on his future.

“How does it affect the rights of Brits to live here long term?” he wanted to know. “Does Switzerland want to continue the same rights and relationship with the UK as it has as part of the EU?” And he also had a more intangible query: “does the embassy feel Brexit has damaged the UK’s standing in the world?”

If the agreement text is a complicated legal document, the explainer of the agreement External linkprovided by the UK government is comparatively simpler. Clearly, though, British nationals have a wide range of questions, often related to their specific circumstances. Ambassador Jane Owen agreed on the complexity of the issue.

How should British citizens be preparing for March 29?

You shouldn’t need to take any extra specific action, says Owen, as long as you followed existing requirements when you moved to Switzerland – i.e. registering in the country, taking out health insurance, converting your driving license and so on. If you have a specific question, get in touch with the embassy. Staying informed is also a good idea: most of the information is online, whether on the UK government’s website for people living in SwitzerlandExternal link, or through the embassy’s Facebook pageExternal link.

The embassy has also stepped up the level of information it publishes on social media over the last months. This has included videos of the ambassador and, at the start of January, a list of the nine most frequently asked questions (with answers) received from the British public in Switzerland.

Last week the embassy began the roadshowExternal link series around the country, which run until the end of February, and where some of the 43,000 Brits in Switzerland can put their questions directly to the ambassador and policy experts. The events were advertised on social media and people had to book (free) tickets to attend. High demand has led to extra events being planned in Bern and Zurich.

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