With a week to go before the Brexit transition period finishes on 31 December, people wanting to relocate to either the UK or the EU before freedom of movement ends are coming to terms with the possibility their plans will be scuppered by travel bans, coronavirus restrictions, and job insecurity.
‘If moving doesn’t work out, I don’t know what we’ll do’
Rose Barber, 33, a teacher and mother of two, is hopeful that she will be able to relocate from Lyndhurst, Hampshire to France with her family on 27 December.
“It looked like everything was in jeopardy, but we are hoping to cross at Dover on the 27th and sign on our new house on the 28th. My husband drove to Leicester to hand-deliver our tests to the lab so we would get the results in time.
“Moving abroad has been a lifelong dream of mine. We started buying our house in July, but it all took ages because of the pandemic. We’re stuck in this admin loop where you need proof of address to show you are in the country and apply for residency, and a French phone number, which we don’t have.
“It’s literally down to the wire. We’ve been living in Airbnbs so if this doesn’t work out, I don’t know what we’ll do.”
As excited as Barber is, she is nervous about potential hurdles arising from Covid restrictions and travel bans.
“Thanks to Covid restrictions, there are family members and friends we haven’t seen in nearly a year and even a baby nephew we haven’t been able to meet in person, which, in addition to not knowing when or even if we will get to France, makes leaving even harder.”
‘I’m very worried for my future’
Daniele Ravizza, 26, from Bergamo, Italy, had to temporarily return to Italy during the pandemic because of financial difficulties, and risked losing his pre-settled status as a consequence when travel bans hit and he fell ill with Covid.
European citizens like him will be eligible to apply for the right to remain if they arrive in the UK before 11pm on 31 December 2020.
Ravizza was granted pre-settled status earlier this year before leaving for Italy, but had to return to the UK within six months in order to retain it.
“Covid pushed me to leave the UK in March. I have interviewed for many jobs in the UK, but was not able to come back because I wasn’t successful and couldn’t afford to stay.
“I tested positive for Covid while abroad, and ended up being away for nine months. I was afraid I might lose my right to remain but when the travel ban between the UK and various countries was announced on 20 December, I booked a flight immediately.
“I’ve made it back and have started my settled status clock again, but I now need to find a job in order to be able to stay. I hope being in London will help me find work, but I’m very worried for my future. The mix of Brexit and Covid has been lethal for me.”
‘If it wasn’t for Brexit, I’d stay put’
Pieter de Jong, 25, is self-employed in the festival industry and graduated from the University of Aberdeen in 2019 before moving back to the Netherlands.
After having been separated from his girlfriend in the UK for most of the year, he is now scrambling to move to Glasgow before the Brexit deadline, where he is due to start a masters degree in January.
“I’m looking to move now because the industry I work in has been completely decimated. It looks like I’ll still be able to travel to the UK as my flight is confirmed for 27 December, and because I’m moving house it would be classed as an essential journey. But if they move my flight or cancel it, I’ll have to figure out what to do.”
De Jong is worried that he might have to pay international student fees, as well as a surcharge in order to be eligible for Scottish NHS services.
“If it wasn’t for Brexit, I’d hold off and travel some time in January, but I want to make it into the country before the deadline to avoid potential problems at the border.
“Covid is another sore point: my home town of Groningen is one of the safest places in the Netherlands, whereas Glasgow is not doing very well at the moment. Travelling so close to Christmas, New Year and the Brexit deadline is unnerving as I’m scared that it might be quite busy and make it hard to keep a safe distance.”
‘I could become separated from my partner’
Norman Jope, 60, from Plymouth, working in academic administration, is struggling to make peace with not being able to relocate to Hungary, where his partner lives, in time before the Brexit deadline.
“My partner is British but has lived there for over 20 years and has recently acquired dual nationality. For various reasons I will not be able to join her in the next seven days, so effectively, from 1 January I will lose my European citizenship rights. My blood is boiling about this.”
The pandemic, Jope believes, will have frustrated many people’s efforts to move between the EU and the UK in time.
“It’s been very challenging to relocate this year – moving would have been a wrench as I have ailing elderly parents. The pandemic effectively took the decision out of my hands.
“My only option is now to either formalise my relationship with my partner so I can join her in the future, which we are thinking about, or get a job and a work permit.
“Healthcare will also be an issue: I’m healthy now, but I will no longer have the automatic right to care in Hungary, and getting private health insurance is difficult for old people. All this is likely to affect the life chances, relationships and mental health of many British citizens.”