MEMBERS of an MEP taskforce looking at the treatment of EU citizens in the EU and Britons in the EU are raising the alarm over what they say are very difficult conditions being applied by the UK over Europeans' residence rights.
This comes as the European Commission says it is carefully investigating the matter to check that the UK is properly respecting its obligations under EU law.
The taskforce, which was originally launched by Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, is particularly concerned by difficulties being faced by certain groups in obtaining permanent residence cards, which are a right for EU or EEA citizens after five years of legal residence (and also, under the latest UK rules, a first step for acquiring British nationality). Some commentators have raised fears that heavy-handed treatment of European citizens by the UK could lead to tit-for-tat repercussions for Britons abroad.
The taskforce notes in particular that ‘inactive’ EU citizens, such as housewives and early retirees and some students are having a very strict interpretation of EU free movement laws applied to them. Some have been told they should have taken out private health insurance policies rather than using the NHS.
Others are being refused permanent residence cards on grounds that their incomes in recent years were not high enough for them to qualify as legal residents under a strict application of rules that allow states to require EU citizens living in a country long-term to have, in the first five years, income of a level deemed ‘sufficient so as not to become a burden on social security’.
EU citizens in the UK say they were not previously made aware of such requirements. As we report in this month’s Connexion newspaper – many now feel their long-term rights to stay in the UK are under threat.
What is more applicants for permanent residence have to fill out an 85-page form, and provide information such as details of every trip outside the UK since they started living there.
One taskforce member, British MEP Catherine Bearder, said: ““EU citizens who have made their home in the UK, pay and contribute to our society must be able to stay, no ifs and no buts.”
This comes as the House of Lords has voted to change the Brexit Bill to unilaterally guarantee the rights after Brexit of EU citizens, though some campaigners have queried its wording, which refers to ‘EU citizens legally resident in the UK’.
Speaking yesterday the European Commissioner for justice, Vera Jourova said the UK must comply with EU rules as long as it remains an EU member and the commission is assessing the matter carefully.
“Freedom of movement is a basic right of European Union citizens and the commission will continue to defend it as a top priority – its correct application by all member states is of fundamental importance,” she said.
The taskforce is also considering the matter of British people’s rights in the EU, especially with regard to obtaining permanent residence cards and citizenship. Those who have recently obtained residence cards on grounds of at least five years’ residence should check that they are in fact ‘permanent’ cards, which should mention the word ‘permanent’ and last at least 10 years before they need to be renewed.
Anyone interested in updates from the taskforce can send an email simply saying ‘yes’ to firstname.lastname@example.org
It plans to hold a public hearing at the end of March, to which it will invite representatives of governments of countries where people have experienced difficulties, as well as the European Commission and some expats willing to tell of their experiences.