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Rebordering Britain & Britons after Brexit
26 July 2022

The real life consequences of Brexit for mixed British-European families

From joining different queues at airport security to holding different immigration status in their country of residence, the shift from a common status as EU citizens to family members having different rights to residence has evoked strong emotions. Beyond this, it is clear that Brexit has had ‘real life consequences’ for those in mixed British-European families.

Our report ‘British-European families after Brexit’ documents all of this and more. This new reserch brief draws on the responses to the our survey ‘Migration and Citizenship after Brexit’, honing in on the 21% of who identified they were part of a mixed-status family (families with at least one close member holding a different citizenship or migration status from the others).

The report shows that, among them, three out of four respondents (75%) reported that citizenship/migration status differences within their family had been an issue of concern since the Brexit referendum; half (50%) relayed that these had affected their decisions to move or stay put.

It reveals the strong emotional responses for those transformed into mixed-status families through Brexit. For example, a woman in her 40s with dual British and American nationality, living in Portugal, offered the following conundrum

Me: British (and American), therefore previously EU, now non-EU; Husband: Brazilian, therefore originally "third country national and family member of EU citizen", now just straight up non-EU. Child1: British / Brazilian - combination of the above. Child2: Portuguese / British / Brazilian - EU AND non-EU citizen, so he is the only one of us with EU free movement rights AND the ability to go live unhindered in the UK. But at 6 months old he's a bit young to do that on his own.

Many worry about how these differences in status will impact on their future movements within the EU and between the UK and EU. The following words are from a male British citizen in Spain, in his 50s, who is concerned that

Unless I apply for Spanish citizenship, I believe that my ability to realise future plans is no longer autonomous. I will be able to do certain things only in my capacity as the spouse of a Spanish national.

For British citizens living in the EU/EEA, concerns about the terms on which they would be able to return to the UK with non-British family members were a common response to the Brexit-borne differentiation of statuses with families.  A woman in her 30s with dual British and German nationality, living in Germany, said:

Unfortunately, after March 2022 it is no longer possible for my husband to move back to the UK despite being married to me as the UK has very terrible laws surrounding family migration. This is worrying as I have elderly parents that may need support […] This means that although me and my daughter are dual nationals it is no longer an option for us to return to the UK as he wouldn't be able to come. I feel very sad and frustrated to have lost this right.

Overall, the picture that emerges from our report shows that, for some, Brexit introduced borders into their lives. Families that previously shared the rights to Free Movement within the EU, remade as mixed-status families with differentiated rights to mobility.

For other families, who already had mixed migration statuses, Brexit deepened the impacts of the borders on their lives. This reveals further impacts of Brexit at the level of the family, making, fracturing and reconstituting their members’ ties within one or multiple countries and affecting their mobility and settlement options as a family.

Looking forward, the report highlights issues that may become more salient as respondents move to different stages in their lives. Issues of status dependency, elderly care and retirement may become sources of frustration, regret and/or division among spouses and partners. For British citizens in the EU who secured temporary residence and EU citizens in the UK who secured pre-settled status under the Withdrawal Agreement, there remain lingering uncertainties as to what will happen when it lapses and what effects it will have on the mixed-status families they are part of.

Read the full report

Read the EURONEWS coverage of the report

To cite this blogpost:

Zambelli, E., Benson, M. and Sigona, N., (2022) The real life consequences of Brexit for mixed British-European families. MIGZEN Blog, 26 July 2022. [Online]

Download the MIGZEN Research Brief here

Photo credit: Elena Zambelli