Huge increase in Britons seeking citizenship in EU states as Brexit looms

Across 18 countries, at least 2,800 Britons applied for citizenship in first eight months of 2016, with Denmark seeing biggest rise

British expats in Berlin hold up signs calling for the UK to remain in the EU after the Brexit vote
British expats in Berlin hold up signs calling for the UK to remain in the EU after the Brexit vote. Photograph: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

The number of Britons seeking citizenship in other EU countries has surged as a result of the Brexit vote, with some member states recording near tenfold increases on 2015 figures.

Denmark, Italy, Ireland and Sweden have all reported a spike in applications from British citizens eager to secure proper status in the EU following the 23 June vote that has set the UK on course to leave.

Across 18 European countries, at least 2,800 Britons applied for citizenship in the first eight months of 2016 – a more than 250% increase on numbers recorded in 2015. Compared with last year’s figures, numbers have surged almost tenfold in Denmark and threefold in Sweden.

Several applicants told the Guardian that it was the Brexit vote that prompted them to take action.

“I started the application process on 24 June, the day after the EU referendum,” said Ravi Bhatiani, 33, who has been living and working in Brussels for nine years. “As soon as there was a risk to the freedom of movement and therefore a risk to my ability to work in Belgium and do the job I enjoy doing, I decided to apply for citizenship.”

In order to find out how the number of citizenship applications has changed, the Guardian contacted the 27 other EU member states requesting figures on applications made by British nationals and received relevant data from 18.

Of the countries that responded, the numbers were highest in Sweden, where more than 1,100 applications were received from British nationals between January and August 2016, more than three times that received in the same period in 2015. They peaked in the week of the referendum (129 applications) and the week after (150 applications).

Meanwhile Denmark witnessed the highest jump in applications, increasing from 30 in the first eight months of 2015 to almost 300 in 2016.

In Ireland, in the year to September there were 351 applications for citizenship from Britons living in Ireland, up from 61 in the same period in 2015.

In Germany, which is home to more than 100,000 British expats, applications are not processed centrally. However, figures provided by the 10 largest cities show a similar trend.

In Berlin, 230 British nationals applied for citizenship in the year to August 2016. By comparison, just 45 Britons were naturalised in the full year of 2015. In Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city, 178 Britons submitted citizenship applications in the year to 7 September compared with 52 in all of 2015.

In Cologne, the number increased from five in the first eight months of 2015 to 40 in 2016. Britons who want to apply for citizenship in Cologne currently have to wait up to six months to get an appointment. If that was not the case, the number of applications in 2016 would probably already be in triple digits, authorities say.

For Belgium, which also handles naturalisations on a local level, five of the 10 largest cities provided data on citizenship applications from British nationals revealing a similar trend: whereas they received just five applications in the first eight months of 2015, there were 33 in the same period this year.

Spain, the EU country with the biggest British community, was not able to provide recent data on the number of citizenship applications submitted by British nationals. However, other figures indicate that more Britons are preparing to apply for citizenship.

In October 2015, the Spanish parliament introduced a new process whereby those seeking Spanish citizenship have to sit two exams, a language proficiency test (DELE) and another one on their knowledge of Spain (CCSE). Of the 95 British nationals who have taken the CCSE test since its introduction, two-thirds did so in June and July.

France, which is also home to a sizeable number of British expats, did not provide figures.
The figures refer to citizenship applications as opposed to passport applications. People who are granted citizenship can, thereafter, apply for a passport.

Not all countries have witnessed a surge in applications. In eastern European countries with relatively small British communities, there were few or no applications logged by UK nationals. For instance, no applications from Britons were recorded in Slovenia, Estonia and Lithuania in either 2015 or 2016 to date. In others, including Croatia, Czech Republic and Hungary, the numbers were up, but from a very low base.

However, a number of these countries reported an increase in the number of requests for information about the application process since the Brexit vote. For example, the Hungarian consulate in London received more than 230 citizenship-related inquiries from British citizens since 23 June, compared to fewer than 10 between 1 January and polling day.

So who are the Britons applying for citizenship in other EU countries? Many have been living and working abroad for a long time. They have enjoyed the advantages that come automatically with Britain’s EU membership – and they want to keep them.

Linda Struck moved to Hamburg 47 years ago. Originally from Nottinghamshire, the 67-year-old is still working as a freelance translator there. Fearful of Brexit, she applied for German citizenship in March. “I thought it was best to get my application in quickly before everybody started applying,” she said. “I was worried that I would need a work or residence permit after Brexit.”

Being married to a German and having two daughters with dual nationality, she did not want to be the only non-EU citizen in her family. She said: “It is important for me to belong to Europe, to know that I am officially a European.”

Having received confirmation four weeks ago, Linda Struck is now also a German citizen.

Bhatiani, who works as a lobbyist in Brussels and who is currently applying for Belgian citizenship, raised other issues. “For my work, I have to go to various EU countries on short notice and if I had to apply for a visa each time, it would seriously impact how I do my job,” he said.

Moreover, he wants to guarantee the social protections and pensions he has worked for over the years, he wants to continue living in his house in Belgium, and he wants to ensure that his family’s right of residency will not be impacted in the future.

However, both Struck and Bhatiani said it was important for them to keep their British citizenship. “I was born British, I feel British, it’s part of my identity,” said Struck. “That’s another reason why I wanted to apply now. After Brexit, new applicants may have to choose either one or the other nationality.”

Currently, Britons – and other EU citizens – do not need to give up their citizenship if they apply for citizenship in another member state. They are instead entitled to hold dual EU nationality, an arrangement that will remain in place for those who have multiple nationalities at the point at which Britain leaves the EU.

Methodology: The Guardian contacted all other 27 EU member states and received relevant data from 18: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Sweden.

In Germany and Belgium, where applications are processed by individual municipalities, data was collected from the 10 largest cities in terms of population.

Wherever possible, the applications received between January and August in 2016 were compared with the same period in 2015 in order to take account of seasonal peculiarities. Where other figures are being compared, this is noted.


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