Brexit: When things get worse for UK and EU expats

Expat news
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Published on 2021-10-01 at 15:20 by Mikki Beru
Post-Brexit immigration has become a major issue over the past months. Things that looked pretty straightforward initially are now getting more complex, especially with the Covid-19 crisis. So with the labour shortage, a crisis in the fishing industry, disillusionment with mixed couples, what will immigration in the United Kingdom look like in the coming months?

Labour shortage

The United Kingdom will soon be issuing 10,500 provisional visas with a three months duration. And this is one of the Brexit consequences. Boris Johnson's government intended to no longer resort to foreign labour to encourage locals to work in traditional sectors. But as the economy is picking up, there seems to be a labour shortage. Sectors like transport (truck drivers in the lead), catering, agribusiness and logistics are in tension have been calling for a relaxation of the rules for months. The players in these sectors firmly believe that it is impossible to survive without foreign labour. So Boris Johnson, who was showing no flexibility, had to give in and review current migration policies. Still, Ruby McGregor-Smith, president of the British Chamber of Commerce, finds it insufficient, according to her recent statements in the media.

Indeed, besides the 10,500 visas, the country needs around 100,000 additional workers in the transport sector alone. Other branches are equally concerned. Mc Donald's, KFC and Nando's fast-food chains have vainly made appeals to the government. Nando's had to temporarily close 12 of its establishments due to a shortage of chicken. At Mc Donald's, there's no more fish or milkshake. KFC had to remove certain products from its menus. Christmas is coming, and no sector wants to miss the season. For them, foreign workers are essential for the country's economy. The lack of truck drivers has an impact even at gas stations. The government, however, is trying to be reassuring. Still, the shortage remains a major concern, especially with the lack of truck drivers. Moreover, 30% of UK service stations are running out of fuel. Faced with general panic, the government is considering solutions like bringing in "a limited number of drivers of military tankers.

Johnson administration is being pinpointed for lack of anticipation. The short term visas issued are deemed sufficient (barely three months -- from October to December), which does not seem enough to attract foreign workers. Settling, accommodation, etc., are significant costs compared to the wages offered. But the government maintains that it is no longer dependent on foreign labour. But the authorities are convinced that the United Kingdom remains an attractive destination for expats. London is back in force after losing its place as the number one stock exchange in March 2021 (Amsterdam ranking first). For Boris Johnson, this proves that London remains a strong economic centre, even outside the EU. But other observers recall that 440 finance companies have left London over the past year -- which accounts for a loss of more than 1,154 billion euros. In 2020, 1.3 million foreign workers, that is 8% of the workforce, left the UK. The pandemic led to a new wave of voluntary or forced departures and cancelled arrivals. International students are also leaving British faculties. You are perhaps aware that the United Kingdom is no longer part of the Erasmus program since Brexit. Studying in the UK now costs on average over € 20,000, compared to half that price before Brexit. According to British universities, a drop of nearly 40% in the number of international students has been recorded. For expatriates, this policy goes against European values.

Fishing crisis

The fishing sector in Ireland has also taken a blow. Deprived of the British coasts, threatened by fishing quotas, Irish fishers made an appeal to the EU. The European Commission, for its part, urgently released 8.6 million pounds to support the Irish fish industry. Against the backdrop of the fishing quota crisis, the European plan provides for subsidies for the Irish fishermen between September and December. But the Irish government remains bitter about the whole situation. Meanwhile, Brussels agreed to relocate 25% of the fish caught in value in British waters. According to the Irish government, this would mean a loss of up to 15% of fishing quotas by 2026, anyway. France also stands to lose from this new policy.

Following Brexit, French fishers must now present a license to continue fishing in British waters. Officially, the UK has granted 12 licenses out of the 47 applications. Unlicensed fishermen have one month to leave the UK zone, and this is having economic and human consequences.

The return of roaming charges

Roaming means using your phone with another network than the one to which you have subscribed. Roaming charges, therefore, apply to any subscriber using their phone abroad, and charges can be really high. June 15, 2017, marked the end of roaming, or rather, the start of "roam like at home". EU countries agreed to abolish roaming charges. In practice, travellers within the European Economic Area (EU, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland) can use their phone without being overcharged.

But Brexit changed the game. The UK has left the European Union (February 1, 2020), and the European Economic Area (January 1, 2021). The three leading British operators announce the return of roaming charges. They assured that "nothing would change after Brexit", but EE was the first operator to break the promise. Last January, the British Telecom subsidiary said that nothing would change and that subscribers would be able to enjoy their EU vacation without additional roaming charges. But in June, charges of £ 2 per day (€ 2.32) were applied. Vodafone is applying the same rates. The purpose of these costs is too invest particularly in 5G. O2 is charging more for subscribers travelling outside the EU -- up to £ 5 per day.

These days, mobile data is also limited. Three is reducing its offer from 20 to 12 GB per month with an additional £ 3 for each additional gigabyte consumed. Vodafone and O2 are more generous with a 25GB limit per month with an additional cost of, respectively, 3.50 and 3.13 £ (4.05 and 3.62 €) for each additional GB.

The British government, however, guarantees consumer protection. Its proposal is to limit roaming costs to £ 45 per month until the subscriber chooses another option. Mobile operators will have to be transparent and inform their customers as soon as they reach 80% of their monthly data capacity. They also have to ensure that consumers do not have to pay “accidental roaming” charges when travelling to Northern Ireland.

Last February, the European Commission proposed to "extend the elimination of roaming charges by 10 years" (the current standard ran until 2022). But nothing has been announced yet regarding the policies of other Member States. For now, French operator Orange says that its customers won't be charged for roaming in the UK. But Polish operators have already informed their customers that they will have to pay roaming charges when travelling in the UK.

The mixed couples issue

It's currently easy for bi-national couples to reside in an EU country, but things are becoming tricky for those living in the United Kingdom. For binational couples wishing to live in the United Kingdom, lack of information is leading to new family tragedies, although Boris Johnson had promised more straightforward procedures. On top of it, the government has set a deadline. Spouses of UK citizens have until March 29, 2022, to apply for a provisional residence permit. However, they have to obtain a "family residence permit" issued by the Ministry of the Interior first. Meanwhile, there's a significant delay in the processing of applications. In addition, the procedures are confusing, and the rejections are not always explained. All this adds to the critical pandemic context, with stranded, stressed, worried spouses who feel abandoned.

One year after the entry into force of Brexit, many complex issues remain unresolved. All sectors of life are affected. As economic pressures threaten the UK market, the while attention is focused on the Johnson administration. 2022 is already shaping up to be a decisive year for both expatriates and British citizens.