© Dreamstime
Experimental feature

Listen to this article

Experimental feature

There is continued confusion about the implications of an Out vote in the UK’s EU referendum, but at least one thing is increasingly clear: the best hedge for Brexit is to go long immigration advisers. With a points system proposed for Europeans and freedom of movement under threat, almost everyone is going to need some advice. As someone who’s gone through the system as a non-European, I feel well placed to provide some initial thoughts.

Post-Brexit Brits

1. At some European airports, the “everyone else” queue for non-Europeans moves about as fast as a planning application, so download some good podcasts in advance.

Brits may already have experience of similar queues outside the EU. However, the relief of your body resuming its human form after being moulded into an economy seat for seven hours en route to New York is often enough to get a person through it. By contrast, a short hop to Paris or Berlin will necessitate something more to keep the mind off the demotion to the everyone-else queue, where one gets to rub shoulders with American exchange students talking about how they “can just smell the history” in Europe.

A more advanced traveller can bring a book instead, but practice is required to co-ordinate reading and advancing at a pace of one step every three minutes. Earplugs also advised (see preceding paragraph).

2. Dating a European will become a bit awkward; get ready to deal with it. “Does she think I’m after her passport? I’m not, but I mean, it would be nice not to have to stand in those airport queues in Spain. Season three of Serial isn’t going to be out for ages.”

Also, Brits should prepare for some late night airport drama when their significant European other makes it through immigration control an hour ahead of them. “No, darling, you go ahead, take the last train without me. It’s all right, I can get a coach. I hope.”

3. Work out where the grandparents were born and hope that it’s Ireland. The country’s laws aren’t just set up to please tax-minimisers like Google. If a grandparent was born on the Emerald Isle, European status can be regained by claiming Irish citizenship.

4. Enjoy the stamps. Like disdain from Brussels, ink in your passport is something a Brit will get a lot more of post-Brexit and European entry and exit stamps are actually quite cute. There is a little drawing of an aeroplane when travelling by air, a steam train (presumably when coming by Eurostar) and a cargo ship for arrival by boat, as part of some Eurocrat’s longstanding sick joke. Collect them and show your friends.

Europeans already in, or migrating to, the UK

1. Have you gone paperless with bank statements, utilities, or payslips? Stop it. The UK immigration system requires the sacrifice of many trees. Go back to getting physical statements for everything, they’ll be needed as the documentary evidence for visa and other applications.

2. If already in the UK, just to be on the safe side get moving on a citizenship application if you qualify — ie you have been here for five years more or less continually. Step one is to get a permanent residence card. Also, you’re going to regret if you went paperless (see above).

3. Keep a record of any trip outside the UK. Every absence over the past five years has to be listed on the citizenship application.

4. Stay away from the Channel Islands, it is utterly confusing about whether they count as an absence outside the UK for immigration purposes.

5. Become familiar with the Immigration Boards online forum. This is like a Game of Thrones fan site but for UK immigration. Instead of an impassioned discussion of topics like “Did they really just kill off my favourite character? Again?”, there are emotional pleas like, “Did I totally mess up my entire naturalisation application because I didn’t think my holiday in Jersey counted as an absence from the UK?”


1. Set up a consultancy to help the newbies navigate the new immigration system.

2. Enjoy being an expert in an area Europeans and Brits didn’t have to care a jot about until the majority voted to leave.


Get alerts on Brexit when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.

Follow the topics in this article