The Finnish government won’t say what plans might be in place to safeguard the continued residency of thousands of British nationals who live in Finland after Brexit.
On Wednesday the European Commission published new guidance for governments in 27 EU countries, and urged them to step up preparations for the possibility that Britain will crash out of the EU without a deal.
When it comes to Brits living in Finland, the Commission says the government should “take a generous approach to the rights of UK citizens” and “should take measures to ensure that UK citizens legally residing in the EU on the date of withdrawal will continue to be considered legal residents”.
News Now Finland reached out to Interior Minister Kai Mykkänen (NCP) to find out what plans are in place – if any – to ensure British nationals continue to be legal residents; and when that information would be communicated to Brits who make Finland their home.
In an email response, the minister’s special adviser wrote “we are still waiting for the British Parliament to make the decision on the Brexit deal. However, as the minister has said, Finland wants to be open and smoothly accessible for Britons in all circumstances also in the future”.
This is the same line the minister gave us in October in response to questions at that time.
The special adviser didn’t reply to further questions about why the Finnish government isn’t being more open about its plans.
The British Parliament is scheduled to vote on the current proposed Brexit deal during the week of 7th January, but Prime Minister Theresa May does not yet have nearly enough support to approve it, and she has delayed the vote once already rather than be dealt a defeat by Members of Parliament.
Reaction from advocates
Campaigners for the rights of British nationals in EU27 countries reacted strongly to the Commission’s latest advice to member states.
Co-Chair of the ‘British in Europe’ group Jane Golding says “there will be no soft landing for over 1.2 million British nationals living on the continent who will have to adjust to life as third-country nationals overnight once all their EU rights have been stripped from them”.
She notes that the bureaucracy involved in dealing with the sheer numbers of Brits living in Europe will be “a massive and overwhelming task in some countries”.
“With the spectre of no deal rising again, so are people’s anxiety levels and it is wrong that citizens’ rights were not guaranteed at the outset. Now British citizens have a been given a clear message that if there is no deal they are on their own, abandoned by the UK government and the EU. This is a far cry from the negotiators’ promises that we would be able to live our lives as before” says Golding in a statement.
Legislation in Finland and EU countries
Time is running out for the Finnish government to put meaningful plans in motion if they need to get new legislation approved, or make an amendment to existing legislation, to secure the continued rights of Brits in Finland.
There are less than 100 days to go until Britain leaves the European Union, and if it happens without a deal, it means some 5000 British nationals will effectively lose their rights to live and work in Finland – they’ll be illegal aliens the very next day.
Given the well-known issues with backlogs at Migri for processing residency applications, the clock is ticking for Finnish authorities to figure out – and communicate – what happens next so that nobody becomes an illegal resident due to lack of planning or bureaucratic problems.
Other EU countries like France and Germany have already started to put legislation through their national parliaments to have a safety net in place by 29th March, just in case there is no Brexit deal.
Authorities in The Netherlands have said they’ll contact tens of thousands of British nationals soon to keep them up-to-date about their future status; while Swedish ministers have been more forthcoming than their Finnish counterparts when it comes to talking about Brexit issues.
Issue of reciprocity
One of the key issues that Finland will face is over reciprocity: whether to apply the same rules to Brits in Finland, as Britain will impose on Finns living in the UK.
Deal or no deal, the British government has unveiled its plans to slash immigration from the European Union after Brexit.
One of the most thorny issues is about the minimum salary a skilled worker must earn if they want to come and work in the UK. The British government wants to set that at £30,000 (approximately €33,000).
So far, the Finnish government hasn’t said if they will apply those same rules on salaries to Brits living here, and what would happen to someone who doesn’t meet the minimum earnings threshold. Those who might earn less include retirees, carers, entrepreneurs, full time students, part time workers or non-working spouses.
Questions for the Ministry to answer
There are numerous other questions left unanswered at present by the Ministry of Interior and Migri around residency rules for British nationals after Brexit, especially about any practicalities involves.
- When and how does the Finnish government plan to communicate to British residents about their deal or no-deal Brexit plans, to ensure they can continue to live in Finland uninterrupted without any last minute problems?
- Will UK nationals who already have permanent residency need to re-apply, or will it be an automatic transfer like the Dutch have said?
- If there is a fresh application process for UK nationals to stay in their homes in Finland and retain residency rights, a) how will the system work? b) how long will the process take? c) what criteria will be used to make the new residency decision and d) on what grounds can someone be rejected?
- How much will a fresh application process cost? Will British nationals have to pay, or will the Finnish government cover the costs as the Scottish government says it will do for Finns living in Scotland?
There are of course other questions around pension rights, continued uninterrupted access to Kela assistance, social security and access to healthcare, but with less than 100 days to go, the Finnish government isn’t prepared to answer any questions at all.