- Daily & Weekly newsletters
- Buy & download The Bulletin
- Comment on our articles
Brexit: No ‘Brexodus’ of Brits from Brussels following UK exit from EU, says major survey
Most UK citizens already settled in the Belgian capital say that they “will not be leaving any time soon”.
That was one of the key messages to emerge from a wide-ranging survey of British expats living and working in Brussels.
This is still your home. Brexit Impact Scan for UK citizens in Brussels was the culmination of a two-year project, funded by the EU's Brexit Adjustment Reserve.
The findings stated that:
- Almost half say that Brexit made it more likely they will stay in Belgium and 39% say Brexit made them less likely to return to the UK.
- “Worryingly” not all UK citizens seem to be aware of the limitations of Belgium’s M-Card scheme.
- Some UK citizens sometimes complain of "incoherent information, bad treatment" from public officials and discrimination on the labour market.
- UK citizens arriving since the end of the transition period say they are treated like all “third-country nationals”, and they are worried about paperwork.
- Nevertheless, Brussels remains an “open and welcoming place for UK citizens to build careers, homes and families”.
According to the report, there was no “Brexodus” from Brussels after Brexit. Over 2,500 UK citizens in Brussels have adopted Belgian nationality since the referendum.
The UK citizen population in Brussels remained steady during the negotiations and transition period, but is now falling as annual immigration drops by 70%, it said.
Despite Brexit, the UK citizen population in Brussels and Belgium is still “in the thousands”, it revealed, “be they dual nationals, M-Card holders, third country nationals or visitors.”
The report combined population data, survey responses and observations from the project in an effort to offer an assessment of the consequences of Brexit for UK citizens in Brussels.
A spokesman said: “It does not claim to be a rigorous scientific study but, rather, offers a snapshot of a community in flux and the administrative challenges they face.”
The study was conducted by the Expat Welcome Desk of the Brussels commissioner for Brussels, which presented it to the British community at an event organised by the Brussels commissioner’s office and attended by the British ambassador to Belgium Martin Shearman.
He acknowledged that all British citizens in Belgium had experienced a period of “disruption” and “uncertainty” post-Brexit.
The ambassador said that Belgian authorities on a local and federal level had proved to “pragmatic” and “constructive” in aiding settlement. “People will continue to make their lives here,” he added.
Brussels Commissioner for Europe and International Organisations, Alain Hutchinson, whose father was British, said : "Let's be clear: Belgium and the UK are close neighbours but the rules have changed."
He warned that a "sharp Brexodus" - which would see significant numbers of British nationals leaving Belgium - "would damage the economic and social fabric" of Brussels”.
To prevent this, he called for "awareness raising initiatives and individual support" for UK citizens" to help them "navigate this new landscape and establish a lasting foothold in Brussels".
Glenn Vaughan, chair of the Brussels British Community Association, expressed the concern of Britons following the 2016 referendum.
“Many British residents were worried and apprehensive about their future in the country. We’re very grateful to Belgium for helping secure our future here, and especially to the Brussels Region, Brussels Commissioner and the Expat Welcome Desk for their extensive practical support to British residents over the last few years,” he said.
In a Q&A session with the audience, a panel of experts included the Expat Welcome Desk and Jo Antoons, managing partner of Fragoman Brussels, a law firm specialising in immigration.
Questions raised included applications for permanent residency and nationality. M-Card holders were advised to obtain the M+ Card (permanent resident) and to avoid any gaps in their residency and social security payments when applying for nationality.
It was also pointed out that individuals de-registering from their municipality risked permanently losing their M-Card and Belgian residency rights. This applied to children of M-Card holders who were studying abroad.
British citizens are invited to address any concerns to the Expat Welcome Desk, which remains the one-stop advice shop for foreign residents in Brussels.
Photos: (main image) Jo Antoons (Fragoman), Bryn Watkins and Amelie Bovy (Expat Welcome Desk); Brussels commissioner Alan Hutchinson (left) and British Ambassador to Belgium Martin Shearman (right); British community at Brext Impact Report presentation ©Brussels commisioner’s office