How to obtain an EU passport as a Briton in the Brexit age

Having a European Union passport confers the right to free movement to live -- and work – ANYWHERE throughout the 27 EU states, and also in Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway which are not EU member states but reciprocate those rights with the EU, writes Kevin Austin, managing director of Access Financial.

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

Since the Brexit deal effective since January 1st 2021, a British passport no longer confers all the above rights. Many Britons have felt this change keenly, so have sought ways to obtain an EU passport, in addition to their existing UK passport. 

They are not at all obvious, but there are several existing routes by which a Briton may obtain an EU passport and these routes are set out below.

1. EU citizenship by descent

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

If the connection is more remote, say a great-grandparent was born in Ireland, you may apply, but the award of citizenship is at the authorities’ discretion.

Most EU countries follow a similar pattern. For example, in the Netherlands, you are a Dutch citizen by 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 citizenship through the option procedure.

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

2. EU citizenship by birth

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

Since 2000, the children of German parents where those parents were born in Germany may acquire citizenship at birth if at least one of their parents has held permanent residence for at least three years and resided in Germany for eight years. Nowhere in the EU is there the unconditional right to citizenship based on birth in an EU country.

3. EU citizenship by naturalisation

All EU countries allow for naturalisation, typically following a period of residence and the meeting of other criteria indicating integration into the society, often including fluency in the national language.

The shortest path to naturalisation in the EU is in Poland, where you may qualify for a passport after only three years of residence.

The longest route in Europe is Liechtenstein, where you need to have been a resident for 30 years to qualify for naturalisation!

Across the EU, five years is the most common qualifying period of residence.

4. EU citizenship through residency, including investment and work

You can obtain Irish citizenship after five years of legal residency during the previous nine years leading up to the time of application. The application process is painless and requires neither an interview nor a test. An Irish passport is one of the most widely accepted and respected globally. A bonus in the eyes of many individuals is that Ireland does not demand military service of its citizens. 

Overall, Ireland is one of the most attractive citizenship via residency programmes.

It is not as easy though as it used to be, as you now need to show that you have an unearned income of at least €50,000 a year (or €100,000 for a married couple).

The EU countries that currently offer so-called 'Golden Visa' programmes are:

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

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

In particular, the Portuguese Golden Visa has investment options that start at €250,000. Holders of a Golden Visa can apply for permanent residence and citizenship after as little as five years.

You need to make one of the investments below to qualify:

  • Purchase real estate amounting to at least €500,000
  • Purchase real estate in an urban regeneration area at least 30 years old amounting to min. €350,000
  • Make a capital transfer of at least €1 million
  • Create at least ten job 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 needed to invest can be as low as €250,000 (£210,00). You need to spend as little as two weeks a year in Portugal. After five years, you can apply for Portuguese citizenship, 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 contractors, but minor children who are adopted can usually obtain citizenship if one or more parents is an EU national.

In the Netherlands, for example, the conditions are that:

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

6. EU citizenship for Sephardic Jews

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

Spain’s Sephardic citizenship program expired in 2019. However, there is no deadline for the Portuguese program at the moment. The Portuguese program is more favourable than the expired Spanish version.

Final thoughts

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

Tuesday 23rd Nov 2021
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Written by Kevin Austin

Kevin is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, a Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, a Fellow of the Association of International Accountants and a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute.

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