News Now Finland understands that government ministers have yet to focus on what happens to some British nationals who would not normally qualify for permanent residence status in Finland, after the end of the Brexit transition period in December 2020.
Britain will formally leave the EU at 01:00 on Saturday 1st February, Helsinki time, but the rights of British citizens who are already living and registered in Finland are guaranteed under the Withdrawal Agreement until the end of the year.
Any British national who is already a permanent resident, and wants to continue being a permanent resident, will have to re-apply for that status.
According to the Ministry of Interior, that application period opens on 1st October 2020 and continues for nine months until 30th June 2021. Although this still has to be verified in Finnish law, it’s included on the Interior Ministry’s official Brexit advice website.
The Withdrawal Agreement says – broadly – that anyone who already holds a valid residence document “shall have the right to exchange that document” within the nine month window “for a new residence document upon application, after a verification of their identity, a criminality and security check […] and confirmation of their ongoing residence.”
When that happens, any British nationals who meet the requirements should become what is known as ‘third country nationals.’
The process will likely be free of charge – and the Withdrawal Agreement states that the application procedures “must be fast and user-friendly.”
Although the main details are set out in the Withdrawal Agreement, it is up to each individual EU member state to create their own specific legislation to outline how that would work in practice in their country.
Minimum salary requirements for third country nationals
One thorny issue that ministers and officials will have to iron out in the coming months is whether to apply minimum salary rules to Brits in Finland who want to continue being permanent residents.
Under normal circumstances, foreigners from outside the EU – known as third country nationals – who come to Finland and work would have to earn minimum salary amounts based on their job field before they get a visa or residence permit.
There will certainly be Brits who came to Finland legally using EU treaty rights originally, but who might now not now earn the minimum salaries that other third country nationals would be required to meet: for example students, carers, retirees, entrepreneurs or unemployed people.
Would they be excluded from continuing to be permanent residents of Finland?
Potentially yes, although those problems could be bypassed if the government writes the new legislation, which it then has to get through parliament, in a way which would allow all British nationals who apply for continued permanent residence in Finland to get it more-or-less automatically, regardless of whether they meet the income requirement for third country nationals or not.
Interior Ministry officials says the previous government faced the same type of issues when they wanted to pass a law to safeguard the rights of Brits until the end of 2020 in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
“At that time the Finnish government and Parliament wanted to secure British nationals’ status and living in Finland in a case of no deal Brexit, so the situation is pretty much the same” said one civil servant, who asked to speak on background only.
Although ministers won’t meet with officials to discuss these issues until early February, it’s understood there’s a genuine will within government to sort this out smoothly for the roughly 5000 British nationals in Finland who are already permanent residents, and who would be expected to want to keep that status.
Warnings from campaign groups
With the Brexit deadline looming fast, the campaign group British in Europe say they’re concerned that the rights of British nationals after Friday are being “massively downgraded.”
In a recent letter to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, British in Europe and the3million – a campaign group for EU nationals in the UK – say that “citizens should simply be able to continue our lives as before, keeping all the rights that we had acquired.”
One of their main concerns is about having the rights to freely move and work across Europe which was not something that is included in the Withdrawal Agreement.
In local terms that would mean anyone with a new permanent residence permit for Finland would be effectively ‘country locked’ here, and not able to move to another EU country to live or work.
That issue will be discussed during the next phase of negotiations between the EU and UK with pressure groups concerned citizens’ rights could be used as a point of leverage by politicians.
“We must not be made bargaining chips a second time” the letter to Barnier says.
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