How to get a European passport as a Brit in the Brexit era

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Having a European Union passport confers the right to free movement to live – and work – ANYWHERE in the 27 EU states, as well as in Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway which are not Member States of the EU but which make these rights with the EU, writes Kevin Austin, Managing Director of Access Financial.

An EU passport also allows visa-free travel, as most are Tier 1 passports in terms of the extent of the countries where this applies.

Since the Brexit agreement came into effect on January 1, 2021, a British passport no longer grants all of the above rights. Many Britons felt this change keenly and therefore looked for ways to get a European passport, in addition to their existing British passport.

They are not at all obvious, but there are several existing avenues by which a Briton can obtain an EU passport and these avenues are described below.

1. EU citizenship by descent

Most EU states offer citizenship by descent to those with ancestors who were citizens. The most common and successful (in terms of numbers for the British) has been Ireland. Even if you were not born or lived in Ireland, you can apply if either of your parents or grandparents were Irish. Or if one of the parents was born in Ireland, you are automatically Irish and entitled to a passport.

If the link is more distant, say a great-grandparent was born in Ireland, you can apply, but the grant of citizenship is at the discretion of the authorities.

Most EU countries follow a similar pattern. For example, in the Netherlands you are under Dutch law if your father was a Dutch citizen when you were born, even if you were not born in the Netherlands. If your Dutch parent was your mother, you could acquire Dutch nationality through the option procedure.

The same principle (implemented differently) is available in most EU countries.

2. EU citizenship by birth

In some states, you get citizenship by being born in that territory, regardless of the nationality of your parents.

Since 2000, children of non-ethnic German parents can acquire nationality at birth if at least one of their parents has been a permanent resident for at least three years and has resided in Germany for eight years. Nowhere in the EU is there an unconditional right to citizenship based on birth in an EU country.

3. EU citizenship by naturalization

All EU countries allow naturalization, usually after a period of residence and meeting other criteria indicating integration into society, often including proficiency in the national language.

The shortest path to naturalization in the EU is in Poland, where you can claim a passport after only three years of residence.

The longest road in Europe is Liechtenstein, where you have to be a resident for 30 years to be eligible for naturalization!

Across the EU, five years is the most common reference period for residence.

4. EU citizenship by residence, including investment and work

You can obtain Irish citizenship after five years of legal residence within the nine years preceding the time of application. The application process is painless and does not require an interview or test. An Irish passport is one of the most widely accepted and respected in the world. A bonus in the eyes of many is that Ireland does not require military service from its citizens.

Overall, Ireland is one of the most attractive citizenships through residency programs.

It’s not as easy as it used to be, because now you have to prove that you have capital income of at least € 50,000 per year (or € 100,000 for a married couple).

The EU countries which currently offer so-called “Visa d’Or” programs are:

  • Spain
  • Portugal
  • Greece
  • Italy
  • Malta
  • Switzerland
  • Austria
  • Belgium

We cannot go into all the schemes in this article, but we can look at one of the most liberal in the EU – Portugal.

In particular, the Portuguese Golden Visa offers investment options from € 250,000. Golden Visa holders can apply for permanent residence and citizenship after as little as five years.

You must make one of the investments below to be eligible:

  • Buy real estate worth at least € 500,000
  • Buy real estate in an urban regeneration area of ​​at least 30 years in the amount of min. € 350,000
  • Make a capital transfer of at least 1 million euros
  • Create at least ten positions
  • Invest at least € 350,000 in scientific research
  • Invest at least € 250,000 in arts, culture and heritage
  • Invest at least € 500,000 in a small / medium business

The minimum required to invest can be as low as € 250,000 (£ 210.00). You need to spend as little as two weeks per year in Portugal. After five years you can apply for Portuguese nationality, but you will need to demonstrate some integration into Portuguese society and language skills.

5. EU citizenship by adoption

This route is not an option for entrepreneurs, but adopted minor children can usually obtain citizenship if one or more parents are EU nationals.

In the Netherlands, for example, the conditions are:

  • One of the parents is a Dutch citizen.
  • The adoption is in accordance with the Hague Adoption Convention or Book 10 of the Dutch Civil Code.
  • Family ties with the original parents are severed.

6. EU citizenship for Sephardic Jews

In 2015, Spain and Portugal passed laws allowing expedited access to citizenship for descendants of Jewish individuals exiled from Spain and Portugal in the 15th century.

The Spanish Sephardic Citizenship Program expired in 2019. However, there is no deadline for the Portuguese program at this time. The Portuguese program is more favorable than the expired Spanish version.

Final thoughts

Not only may UK contractors find themselves ineligible for some of the above routes to EU citizenship (as is obviously the case with the citizenship route for adopted minors), these six routes are also not all available in all EU states. So, if you are interested in being eligible for European citizenship, researching to see if you are eligible will be essential, before potentially consulting an expert in your specific category. Fortunately, initial qualifying information is relatively easy to access on the websites of the respective embassies in the UK, or by visiting consular offices or government websites that deal with immigration matters.


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