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British and in the Netherlands? How to keep your EU citizenship

Fragomen Worldwide provides a full range of expat services with access to experienced immigration professionals and support around the world.

The stunning news that the UK voted to leave the European Union has UK nationals who reside throughout Europe asking: what does this mean for me? 

In particular, many UK citizens are grieving the loss of their European citizenship and wondering what, if anything, can be done to keep their EU passport.

No changes as of yet

First of all, it is important to understand that for now nothing has changed. The referendum vote is still just an expression of the will of the voters.

Your right to live and work freely in the EU has not changed and that will continue to be the case, unless or until that right is removed. And any such change appears to be a few years off, at the very least.

Registering with the IND pre-emptively

If you are a UK national living in the Netherlands, chances are that you have not registered with the Dutch immigration authorities, as registration is only required if you sponsored a non-EU family member. 

Before thinking about citizenship options you may want to consider registering with the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) to document your legal residence in the Netherlands.

Even if you are not thinking about Dutch citizenship, the registration may serve as a basis of rights down the line when there is a new settlement between the UK and the EU. Most experts believe this will provide a right of stay for UK nationals already residing in the EU. 

If you would like to register, please be prepared that some IND employees may be reluctant to register you. That’s because you are still currently an EU national and it is Dutch policy that EU nationals do not need to perform any immigration formalities, unless they wish to sponsor non-EU family members. However, there is no bar to performing the registration and you should not be prevented from doing so.

Dutch nationality

In the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, the media has been full of stories about UK nationals applying for European citizenship as a safety measure. You may be wondering if it makes sense for you to do so in the Netherlands.

As a general rule, you may apply for Dutch citizenship after five years of continual legal residence in the Netherlands. There is a language requirement, which means that you must hold a diploma in Dutch or you must pass the civic integration exam, which includes a language test and a test on day-to-day life in the Netherlands.

Dual citizenship usually not an option

The most important thing to know about obtaining Dutch citizenship is that in the Netherlands there is a ban on dual citizenship. That means that, in most cases, you would have to renounce your British nationality in order to qualify for Dutch citizenship. 

There are, however, a small number of exceptions to this rule for specific situations:

Applying as a partner or spouse

The spouse or registered partner of a Dutch citizen is not required to renounce their other nationality.  If this applies to you, you will be able to apply after just three years of marriage or registered partnership. Furthermore, you do not need to be living in the Netherlands when you file your application.

It’s important to note that you cannot apply for Dutch nationality while you’re living in the country that issued your original passport. That means you need to be residing outside of the UK when you apply. However, soon the ability to apply abroad will be limited by pending changes to the Dutch Citizenship Act.

Suffering significant loss due to renouncing citizenship

Another exception to the ban on dual citizenship is if you will have to pay a significant penalty or you would suffer a significant financial loss if you gave up your British citizenship, such as missing out on an inheritance. You will need to verify this for the authorities and this is, in practice, a pretty rare circumstance. 

Long-term durable stay for EU nationals

A third option is to apply for long-term durable stay for EU citizens, a type of permanent residence for EU nationals that does not have the same limitations as citizenship.

You must also reside in the Netherlands for five years to qualify. This could be an interesting option if you want to preserve the rights of you and your family in the EU.

Options outside of the Netherlands

If changing to a Dutch citizenship is not an option for you, you may want to look to other European countries where there is not a ban on dual citizenship or where the procedural barriers are lower.

The negotiations between the UK and the EU are sure to take many years and you may have time to begin building residence rights in friendlier jurisdictions.

Belgium and France are more flexible

In Belgium, for example, the residence requirement is five years of continuous stay, but dual citizenship is permitted (at least for the time being).

There is a language requirement in Belgium (French or Dutch), but that can be waived if you demonstrate that you have been working in Belgium for the five years of residence.

France also requires five years of residence in most cases, but if you study at a French university the time is reduced to two years. 

That means a Master’s degree could be enough for you to qualify for naturalisation in France and maintain your EU citizenship. If you obtain a degree in French that’s even better, the degree will count towards the language requirement. 

Latest developments

The Eerste Kamer is currently debating changes to the Dutch Citizenship Act that will extend the residence requirement for nationality from five to seven years. This will affect the rights of those who wish to apply based on marriage who are residing abroad.

Conclusion

When the UK does formally leave the EU you may be able to remain a citizen of the EU, if you plan ahead properly. Whether you are living in the Netherlands, married to a Dutch citizen, or are flexible about where you will go when you leave the Netherlands, there are several good options out there.
 

Fragomen Worldwide can help you obtain EU citizenship or plan your European citizenship for the future. Please contact Christine Sullivan or Massimo Maesen at beneluxinfo@fragomen.com.

Fragomen Worldwide

Christine

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Christine Sullivan

Christine is an Attorney and Manager based in the Brussels office of Fragomen Worldwide. Christine acts as key point-of-contact for individuals who wish to be employed, work as self-employed or...

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