New figures show there’s been a surge in British nationals applying for Finnish citizenship since the UK voted to leave the European Union.
According to the Finnish Immigration Service Migri, there was a 238% increase in the number of Finnish nationality applications in the 18 months since Britain’s Brexit vote, compared with the 18 month period before the vote.
There’s been a historically low number of British nationals applying for Finnish citizenship, and that is likely due in part to a requirement to speak Finnish to an intermediate level. In some other EU countries, like Sweden, there’s no language requirement at all to apply for citizenship. Migri’s figures show only 451 Brits applied for Finnish nationality in total, between 1990 and 2016.
In the 18 months before the June 2016 Brexit referendum in Britain, statistics show just 54 British nationals applied for Finnish citizenship. That’s a lower number than countries like Germany, Poland or USA.
However in the 18 month since Brexit there’s been 183 applications – for comparison, Germany, Poland and USA either increased slightly, or had fewer applications in this same time period.
And while there’s been a steady stream of applications in the months since Brexit, there was an noticeable uptick in the last months of 2017 as the realities of possible Brexit scenarios began to hit home.
The latest proposals agreed between the UK and EU would allow British passport holders who live in EU countries to retain all the rights they currently enjoy in that country, after Brexit.
Except for one important condition: they’d be ‘country locked’ which means that while you would retain rights to live and work in Finland as a post-Brexit Brit, you wouldn’t be able to just leave to live or work in another EU country.
And that concerns some British nationals in Finland, like chef Gareth James who lives with his Finnish wife and children in Kittilä.
“When that deal was first announced, the way I read it first was quite a sort of wow that seems quite good. And then I sat down and listened what the head of the EU said about it, and I realised there was a lot of the details still to be worked out” he says.
Gareth keeps a closer watch than many on Brexit-related matters, and in the months after the Brexit referendum in June 2016 he signed up to Facebook groups and avidly read dozens of stories every week online to find out the latest information.
But he feels politicians in the UK don’t give a lot of thought to the British nationals living in Finland.
“They’ve got so tunnel-focused on trade that actual EU people in the UK come a distant second, and British people in the EU are so far off their scope, they don’t really care now”.
And so like 183 other British people have done since the Brexit referendum, Gareth has decided to apply to become Finnish.
“I realised that as much as I am proud to be British, I needed to take Finnish citizenship and above all my family comes first. At least I know whatever I want to do with my family we can go ahead and do it” he says.
The worries around what happens to him and his family, whether they could move easily back to the UK with their transferable skills, has taken its toll, according to Gareth.
“This whole Brexit thing has affected me mentally. In the weeks afterwards I really didn’t sleep well” he explains.
“Days and weeks will go by and I’m not closer to knowing what Britain’s position with the EU is going to be like in 2019”.
While there has been a noticeable increase in the number of British people applying to take up Finnish nationality since the Brexit referendum result, some Brits say they don’t indent to apply to be Finnish yet.
But they still have unanswered questions about the practicalities of the Brexit process.
Chris Horn moved to Finland six months after the Brexit vote with his Finnish girlfriend.
“I don’t think anything major will change, but what I’m struggling to find out about is my driving license, will it still be valid? If I want to go back with my Finnish girlfriend, what is our situation then? Those are things you don’t see on the news” says the 25-year-old.
“I wouldn’t want to become Finnish, but if worst comes to worst I would. I am a Scottish, British person, but if I found myself not able to do things, practically, then I would look at getting a Finnish passport” says Chris.
Espoo resident Richard Millar is more relaxed about the nationality issue, since he has an Irish grandparent and another pathway to retaining EU citizenship without having to think about applying for a Finnish passport.
“I have been very vocal from the beginning that I have no concerns about my status in Finland. I told people to take a chill pill there is no way that Finland is going to throw us out” the 50-year-old says.
“I probably should apply for a passport, it’s just pure laziness” says Stephen Whittaker, a Brit who works in sports development and has lived in Finland for more than 20 years.
“With Brexit, if the UK expels all foreigners or makes it tough on them, then EU countries will do the same, but I don’t see there will be any mass overhaul of how things currently stand” says the 41-year-old, noting if anything there could be more urgency for him to get his Finland-born daughter a UK passport, to make trips back to visit family in England potentially more smooth.
In conversations, many British nationals in Finland have expressed frustrations about how to find out the latest information on where Brexit negotiations stand, and specifically, how it might impact their personal situation.
The British Embassy in Helsinki has made attempts to engage with the estimated 4,500 British citizens who currently live in Finland, but they’re clearly still in the dark themselves on the practicalities of what a post-Brexit deal might look like.
“We have conducted a range of activity to keep British nationals informed in 2017 and will continue to do so in 2018” emails Laura Bryden from the British Embassy.
“The government, they are the ones who initiated Brexit so they should have the responsibility to inform us, letting people know their rights” says Chris Horn in Espoo.
“I appreciate that the Embassy is stuck between a rock and a hard place. They have a job to do but they don’t believe in the job they have to do” says Gareth James in Kittilä.
“In the weeks and months leading up to the Brexit referendum I was really quite happy how the Embassy social media were doing. They were really quite pushing the ‘get your vote out’ message. And I think I might have put too much faith that the outreach effort was going to continue after the vote” he says.
“They basically clammed up”.