Brexit affects us all. And not just ‘us’ living in the UK, but also everyone living in mainland Europe. Recently I was reminded of that again.
Since Brexit, the UK has closed its borders to far too many people, indiscriminately refusing entry. For some reason, the Home Office still seems to think all other nationals are falling over themselves to get into this country and make a life for themselves in post-Brexit Britain, even if they have a perfectly good life in the country they are a national or resident in.
Rule changes and EU citizens
Brexit changed the rules about travel for both UK and EU residents and citizens. Suddenly the borders between the UK and the rest of Europe (except Ireland) are guarded much more closely; people cannot travel with an identity card anymore, it has to be a passport. Everyone crossing the border gets checked in person, be it on the way out of the UK or on the way in.
And soon EU citizens will need to apply for a UK visa to enter the country, even for a weekend break.
All this has been reported in the media, and everyone has seen and heard of large queues at custom control in airports or in Dover/Calais. But there is a large group of people who are more seriously affected. Just like the UK has people living here who are not European nationals, the rest of Europe likewise has people living there from countries outside the EU. And it is those people who are now classed as coming from a ‘third country’ where UK border control is concerned.
Many have lived in a European country for years, have friends and family there, a job and a home, a life. And most have official long-term residency (between 2009 and 2021 EU residency was granted to 26.8 million people) in the country they live in. This is known as long-term EU residency, which gives them the same rights as that country’s nationals. Or at least, it did. Until Brexit.
Before Brexit, people with a valid EU identity card, given to EU nationals and those with long-term EU residency could hop over to the UK for a holiday, a weekend break, some Christmas shopping, a visit to friends, a funeral, etc. They had the right to travel in the EU.
Since Brexit, these people are classed as ‘third country nationals’, and their EU citizenship doesn’t mean anything anymore when it comes to entering the UK. They have to apply for a visa, either a visitor visa or a friends and family visa. And there are no guarantees it will be granted!
My family friend
I have a good friend in the Netherlands, someone who to all intents and purposes is part of our family. This person has a Chinese passport, but has lived in the Netherlands for a long time. They have a family, a good job, their own house, a relationship. In short, they live in the country.
And this person is a golf fanatic. So together with a group of friends who feel the same way, and are from the same country originally, they planned to go and play on a British golf course, a course they hadn’t played on before, just for the experience. Sounds good? It did to them. But then the problems started. They have EU residency but are not EU nationals. So for a midweek break in the UK, they had to apply for a six-month visitor visa.
This meant filling in an online form, telling the UK Home Office all about their life in the Netherlands, their job, income, bank account. And how much money they were going to spend (how could anyone know this?), and when will you travel exactly (again, difficult to say, as you are not going to book tickets if you don’t know whether you are allowed to enter the country). Can you prove that you will be doing what you say you are planning to do (but with no option to attach for instance the golf certificate my friend has to show she plays golf, how can you?).
Fortunately a member of my family was able to help with the application as Home Office English is not easy for someone who isn’t used to speaking English the best of times.
And when you’ve filled in the form and paid the fee (€100), you need to make an appointment for a biometric check. Pick a place from the options available, book an appointment and pay the fee (another €100) – oh no, no slots available. Pick another place, try again – and pay again, no refund of the money paid for your first choice. Another €100.
Take a half day off work, lose half a day’s income. Go to the meeting. “No, you cannot show your Golf certificate or a bank statement here as evidence, we don’t want to see any extra documents, should have attached all to your application. Well no, there is no option to attach them. Still we don’t want to see anything here. Just leave your passport.”
And then you wait, and hope the decision is in your favour. For my friend, it wasn’t.
In spite of a healthy bank account and being a regular golf player, the Home Office was not convinced they only wanted to come over to play golf, or had enough money to spend what they were planning. Rejected. No appeal possible. Just come and collect your passport (take another half day off work, lose another half day’s income).
I just hope if ever anything serious happens to a member of the family over here, the Home Office will have emergency visa applications in place and show a bit of humanity, because there are occasions when you want all the family together, and that includes those who were not born into the family but became part of the family later in life.
Killing UK tourism?
So this is one person not coming over to play golf, and probably not going to consider coming over for just a holiday in the future either. Loss of income for the golf course, the hotel they would have stayed in, the restaurants they would have dined in, the shops they would have visited.
Only one person, unless more people in the group of friends get rejected.
But how many genuine tourists are rejected? Why does the Home Office think that everyone wants to come over here to live? Many people just want a golf break, the ‘London experience’, watch a few shows, book a week in Wales, go hiking in the Lakes District, or anything else.
Britain has so much to offer, is it so difficult to imagine tourists would like to experience some of that, and after that go back to their home, life, job and family? How have we become that suspicious as a country?
We should embrace tourism, it brings money into the country. It helps small businesses, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, hotels. And it enriches lives, both for the tourists and those who deal with tourists. But maybe the Home Office doesn’t care about all that?