Brits, Berlin, and Brexit: How British Citizens Can Stay in Berlin

Brexit checklist: a valid passport, Anmeldung, a print-out of your online registration form for the Ausländerbehörde, a paying job, German health insurance, a German bank account, a German driving license, and a year’s supply of decent cider.

The 29th of March is nearly upon us, and after more than two years of “robust” negotiations, it’s looking more and more like we’re headed for a no-deal Brexit. So what does that mean for those of us from the UK who have decided to make Berlin our home? As we get closer to the big day, I’ve accepted that I can’t keep sticking my fingers in my ears and hoping that this whole thing will go away. I decided to finally do a bare minimum of research, pump a couple of clued-up friends for information, and see if there were any shreds of certainty in the sea of Brexit doubt.

My first port of call was the UK government’s ‘Living in Germany’ page, which is regularly updated. This page covers a number of topics, from residence to student loans, so it’s worth checking out – you can also sign up for email updates, so you won’t miss any new information. Hidden among worryingly vague statements about visa regulations, the most important thing this page will tell you to do before the “EU Exit” (who calls it that?) is to apply for a residence permit from your local Ausländerbehörde, or Foreigners’ Authority.

After about half an hour of following various links, I found out that if you’re a UK citizen in Berlin, you can’t just arrange an Ausländerbehörde appointment: you need to fill in an online form. My friend Jacob, who moved to Berlin earlier this year but had lived in Germany previously, was way ahead of me on this and says he registered before he even got here.

photo: iHeartBerlin

However, if you’re like me and you’ve got a pathological aversion to paperwork, you still need to bite the bullet and try to fill in the form before the 29th of March – because once you do, you’ll be put on a waiting list for an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde. Appointments will start being scheduled from the 1st of April, and all UK citizens must be registered by the end of the transition period.

If the EU gets the deal they want, then the transition period in Germany will be 21 months, but if there’s a no-deal Brexit then the Berlin Ausländerbehörde will have just three months to process everybody – unless Germany decides to extend the transition period, which  “may” happen. So you can expect to be sitting across a desk from a very overworked civil servant at some point in the near future.

You can find the online form, along with relevant info, here – make sure to read the FAQs carefully before you begin. The key things they want to know are whether you’ve lived in Germany for five or more years, what your main activity is (e.g., if you’re a student or in employment), and which address you’re registered at. So if you haven’t already got Anmeldung, you’ll have to act fast. Once you’ve filled in the form, you’ll reach a page thanking you for registering: scroll down to the bottom and print out the “certificate”. Why do you need to do this? Apparently, it’s so that you can show employers that you have a legal right to work in Germany until the transition period is up. In the meantime, you’ll just have to wait for an email from the Ausländerbehörde, and check that your UK passport isn’t about to expire – you’ll need it for the registration process.

Disconcertingly, the exit page says that this registration application certificate “does not give you the right to travel to another European state or to re-enter Germany”. The Bundesregierung says elsewhere that “EU rules on freedom of movement will continue to apply” during the transition period, and the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building, and Community says that after the transition period UK citizens will “probably” be allowed up to 90 days of visa-free travel every six months.  However, it’s unclear what exactly will happen in the case of a no-deal Brexit: it seems possible that there will be a period in which UK citizens will need visas to be allowed back into Germany.

photoAndrew Dupont / CC

This is where things start to get worrying. Given the probable lag in the visa process – hell, given the fact that nobody seems to know what the visa process will look like – it’s reasonable to wonder how much we’ll be able to travel. Jacob tells me that he’s not sure if he’ll be able to visit his family in Newcastle over Easter. Meanwhile, Martin – who has been living in Berlin on and off since 2016 – is worried about his mum: “She’s in a nursing home in England, and she’s not very well. I went to see her recently, but I don’t know when I’ll have another opportunity. Will I be able to go and visit her, and if I do, will I be able to get back into the country?”

Of course, any potential visa process is likely to be a lot easier for those with a steady income and an employer who can vouch for them. For Martin, this isn’t the case: he’s been out of work, firstly due to his studies and then because he’s been caring for his young son, who has a chronic illness that often keeps him home from Kita. Martin has been trying to convert his UK driving license so he can get a similar job to the one he had back home, driving articulated lorries. Because of a medical problem, though, the process was held up, and it might drag on past the 29th of March – so he’ll suddenly no longer hold an EU license, which means he’ll have to sit a German driving test.

Even for those in full-time employment, the visa issue is causing more concern than a ticket controller in a U-Bahn carriage. Jacob knows his employer will be able to help him out with his visa because they’re used to working with non-EU nationals. But he’s worried that being dependent on a visa will weaken his hand when it comes to negotiating a better contract. “That’s why I’ve joined two unions here, so I can get representation and won’t be taken advantage of,” he says.

Given all these complications, it seems reasonable to ask why we’re staying here. If we don’t like it then we can, of course, lump it. But life in the UK has its own problems. Martin is hoping to get funding for a Ph.D. through the German system, given the lack of opportunities in his field in the UK: “even people who are academically brilliant are struggling.”

photoChris Fleming / CC

Jacob also feels that Germany offers him more opportunities. Having just completed a degree in English and German, he’s had difficulties finding jobs back home which reflect his skills and is worried that what jobs there are will be moved abroad. “It’s difficult to see what the market will be like in a few months’ time,” he tells me. “There’s no guarantee that roles dealing with European markets will still be there. It’s a bit shit that we started uni without knowing that this was going to happen.” Faced with a choice between going to London for work or moving to Berlin, he opted for the city which he thought was more liveable.

That brings me to the main reason why we want to stay in Berlin: we like it here. No matter who I talk to or how much paperwork they’re buried in, everyone agrees that they’re here because they want to be. There’s a general recognition, too, of how lucky we are to have a whole system set up for us: unlike immigrants from some countries, we’re broadly considered to be “desirable”.

Over the transition period, as the days get warmer and I emerge from my hibernation to drink späti beers by the river or to queue up for clubs without getting chilblains, I’ll be reminded why I’m putting up with all this hassle. This city still feels like home, no matter what our governments say. And even if the bars do charge an arm and a leg for a glass of cider.

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Text: Rom Brook-Hart, Cover photo: Twisted Photo

Originally from Hampshire, Rom jumped on the Berlin bandwagon last September and has been catching up with the paperwork ever since. When she’s not writing articles, she’s generally reading about bodies and movement.

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