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Brexit vote creates surge in EU citizenship applications

The count in Cambridge after the EU referendum in June 2016.
The count in Cambridge after the EU referendum in June 2016. Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer

At least 17,000 Britons sought the citizenship of another EU member state in the year after the Brexit vote, a Guardian analysis shows.

While comprehensive figures for the previous year are not available, the larger countries surveyed all reported a jump in applications, suggesting a significant overall increase.

Figures collated from requests to London-based EU embassies and interior ministries across the bloc show that EU citizenship applications from UK residents and Britons living in other member states surged in the 12 months after the referendum.

Responses received from 20 countries showed the greatest number of applications were for Irish citizenship with almost 9,000 applications from UK residents and Britons living in Ireland in the 12 months from July 2016, the month after the referendum took place.

Almost 9,000 Britons applied for Irish citizenship in the 12 months following the Brexit vote

The Irish embassy in London received 8,017 applications from UK residents between July 2016 and the end of June 2017 compared with just 689 in the full year of 2015. There was also a surge in applications from British residents in Ireland: 894 applications were made in the year from 1 July 2016, compared with just 104 the previous year.

An overall agreement on Britain’s article 50 withdrawal from the EU is far from settled, and the EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said on Thursday that sufficient progress had not been made on the issue of citizens’ rights for the estimated 1.2 million Britons living in other EU countries and 3.6 million EU citizens who are residents of the UK.

Dora Kostakopoulou, a professor of EU law and European integration at Warwick University, said the main reasons for the surge in applications was because people wanted security of residence and were seeking to retain EU citizenship rights, including the right to travel and live in the 27 countries that will remain members of the EU after the UK leaves.

“They value European citizenship and therefore they do not wish to lose this status as a result of Brexit,” she said. “So gaining citizenship of (another) member state would guarantee their existing status and their existing rights.”

The Guardian contacted the UK-based embassies and interior ministries of the other member states requesting the number of citizenship applications made by UK residents and Britons living in the respective countries.

In the first eight months of 2017, 2,129 Britons living in France applied for French citizenship, figures from the interior ministry show. This compares with 1,363 applications in the whole of 2016 and just 385 in 2015. These figures exclude those made directly to the French embassy in London.

Just over 1,700 UK residents applied for German citizenship in the 12 months following the Brexit vote, compared with just 63 applications in the full-year 2015. About 90% of these were made under restoration of the basic law for the Federal Republic of Germany which confers citizenship rights on the descendents of people whose citizenship was renounced on political, racial or religious grounds in Nazi Germany.

One of them is London-based Jon Landau, the chief operating officer at tech startup Wazoku. He, his father, uncle and son all applied for citizenship on the grounds that Landau’s grandfather lost his German citizenship in the 1930s.

“As soon as the Brexit vote became clear, I started looking more seriously into the application process. Becoming a German citizen isn’t just about my future, but also about my young son’s opportunities. I want to ensure that he will see himself as a European citizen, with all the possibilities and freedoms of travel, study and work that I’ve enjoyed,” he said.

More than 1,700 UK residents applied for German citizenship in the 12 months following the EU referendum

There was also a large increase in German citizenship applications among Britons living in Germany. The Federal Office for Statistics (Destatis) recorded 2,865 such applications last year, up from 622 in 2015. Figures for 2017 are not yet available.

The Swedish migration authority reported a steep increase in applications by British citizens: 1,965 Britons applied for Swedish citizenship domestically and abroad in the year to the end of June 2017, more than double the previous year.

Almost 2,000 Britons applied for Swedish citizenship in the 12 months following the EU referendum

British applications for Danish citizenship more than doubled to 604 in the same period compared with the previous year.

In Spain, where foreigners can apply for nationality after 10 years’ residence but must renounce their prior citizenship, the numbers seeking citizenship are relatively low: data on the number of people taking Spanish knowledge tests with the Instituto Cervantes shows there were 579 applications in the year after the Brexit vote.

As the test was only made compulsory in October 2015, it is not possible to compare this with the previous year period, but the average number of applications per month shot up from nine to 58 after June 2016.

One of the largest proportionate increases was recorded in Italy where the number of applications rose more than eightfold from 70 in the 12 months to the end of June 2016 to 593.

Britons made 593 Italian citizenship applications in the 12 months following the EU referendum

Applications for Finnish citizenship trebled to 115 applications while the number of applications for Cypriot and Greek citizenship quadrupled to 306 and 45 respectively.

There were about 170 applications in the Netherlands in the 12 months after the vote compared with just 40 in the full year of 2015.

Dawn MacFarlane, who has lived in Holland for the past 19 years and is awaiting a decision on her Dutch citizenship, said: “I actually considered myself a European citizen so I never felt the actual need to change my citizenship to Dutch even though I’ve been here a long time.”

However, she became concerned after the Brexit vote about her entitlements should she become unemployed and she said her feelings about the UK changed after the result.

“I just feel that being part of Europe is a very important part of my identity. For a large part of my life, I felt more European than British. I am Scottish first and I would have been British but the European feeling overpowered the British part.”

The Austrian embassy said it usually received about 10 applications per year, but that rose to 35 in the year following the Brexit referendum. A further 37 applications were received across the country’s nine states compared with just 15 between July 2015 and June 2016.

Other countries reported more modest increases in the number of UK residents seeking citizenship in the 12 months following the vote: the Czech republic recorded 27, up from 11, while Slovakia had 24 applications, up from 15.

No Britons were recorded as having applied for citizenship of Estonia and Slovenia.

The Guardian did not receive responses or got incomplete figures from Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia, Malta, Poland and Portugal, and a Belgian official said its figures were not centrally collated.

Citizenship applications differ from applications for passports which can only be obtained by existing citizens. Irish passport applications made by UK residents have soared since Brexit: more than 100,000 Irish passports were issued in the UK in the first six months of 2017, up from 65,000 in 2016.

People born in other countries are automatically Irish citizens if they or either of their parents were born in Ireland (including Northern Ireland) before 2005. However, foreign-born individuals with an Irish grandparent or a parent who, although an Irish citizen, was born outside the country, must apply for inclusion in the foreign births register in order to gain citizenship.

This article titled "Brexit vote creates surge in EU citizenship applications" was written by Pamela Duncan and Jon Henley, for The Guardian on Friday 13 October 2017 05.00am

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