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British expats left worried after UK votes to leave the EU

by Ray Clancy on June 24, 2016

Hundreds of thousands of British expats in the European Union are now wondering about their future after the UK voted to leave the political and economic community.

Many had been angry that they were not allowed to vote in a referendum that will now prove to be historic as voting rules in the UK meant anyone who had lived abroad for more than 15 year cannot take part in an election.

In France many expats have said that they will now seek French nationality as they fear about how their lives and work arrangements could be changed and those wishing to move back to the UK are now worried about being able to sell their homes.

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The issues that are likely to affect British expats in the UK include pensions, healthcare, home ownership rights, working arrangements, finance and legal status. With Sterling plunging as a result of the vote those who are pensioners and receive their money in British pounds are already facing a considerable drop in income due to the currency drop.

There are fears that those seeking to be employed in the EU would have to obtain some form of work permit and those setting up as self-employed would face more restrictions than they do now in terms of qualifications being recognised and red tape.

Olivier Campenon, president of the Franco-British chamber of commerce in Paris believes British expats will face a difference future. “Many scenarios were outlined during the campaign but the truth is that we do not know what follows, except that we are facing a different Europe,” he said.

In Spain, which also has a large British expat population, people are facing similar concerns. Many second home owners in both countries are also worried about what it means for their situation.

EU member countries are shocked by the decision even although polls suggested in the run up to the vote that the Leave campaign were on track to win. French President Francois Hollande immediately called a ministerial crisis meeting and British Prime Minister announced that he will leave in October which means the UK will get a new leader.

And there are millions of EU citizens living and working in the UK who are also worried about the future. In particular they could face some kind of test to continue working and might need to get a visa. The leader of the Leave campaign, Boris Johnson, who could be the next Prime Minister, has said that he wants to introduce and Australian type points system for immigration and that now looks highly likely.

Before the vote a Government paper on Brexit warned that there is no guarantee that expats would keep the rights to work, reside, own property and use public services such as healthcare.

“UK citizen’s resident abroad would not be able to assume that these rights will be guaranteed. At the very least, any terms which the UK seeks for its own citizens would have to be offered to EU citizens wishing to come to or stay in this country,” it said.

The UK will now begin what is expected to be a two year negotiation period to leave the EU. However, an EU spokesman said that the Vienna Convention of 1969 states that people keep the rights that they once exercised under a treaty, even if that treaty is later terminated.

“Therefore expats in Europe would retain their acquired right to stay there, but it would not apply to people who move abroad in the future,” he added.

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