Mr Chris White
MP for Warwick and Leamington
10 April 2017
Dear Mr White,
Let me introduce myself as Professor of Physics at the University of Warwick and a German citizen. I hold 3 doctorates from three different universities in 3 countries. My research experience has spanned three continents (USA 1989–1990, 1992–1994, India 1994–1995, Germany 1996–2002, UK 2002–present, China 2015-present). I am author of more than 160 scientific publications, have given more than 140 invited talks and made more than 80 conference presentations. I am Co-Editor of various scientific journals, serve as secretary and treasurer of the Institute of Physics’ Theory of Condensed Matter group, am external under- and postgraduate course examiner at UK and international universities, regularly review UK, EU and international grant proposals and have thus far organized 20+ conferences with national and international remit.
I am, I hope you agree, one of the those “highly skilled European workers” that the UK government wants to attract and retain after the recent decision to leave the EU by 2019. Let me therefore take this opportunity to outline to you what I expect to happen in the UKs negotiations with the EU for me to continue to consider the UK an attractive place to work and live. I hope that you will find the letter instructive since I think it highlights some of the complexities associated with the decision to leave the EU. I will concentrate purely on my personal family circumstances and note that the issue of the UK’s continued involvement in the EU’s research area has been brought to parliament’s attention by various previous routes.
In order to be specific, let me state that our family came to the UK in 2002 after I had been offered an academic position at Warwick. We accepted the offer particularly because of the attractiveness of an academic position inside the EU. My wife originates from a non-EU/EEA country and our daughter was 2 years old at the time of our arrival in the UK. We own a house (via a mortgage) in Warwick.
- At present, we reside in the UK due to the applicable EU treaties on free movement. I understand that these are likely to cease being applicable from 2019 onwards. It is therefore mandatory that the shape of any new residency regulations is being made public as soon as possible. I travel regularly, mostly work related, and it must be clear at least one year in advance of the UK’s leaving the EU in 2019 what other residency regulations will be put in place. If, for example, the UK would want current EU residents to apply for residency status under current or any future regulations, then this must be made clear as soon as possible. I note that no such guidance has been offered thus far, leading to contradictory and misleading advice from immigration lawyers. Let me also state that the current 85-page residency application document of the Home Office is not fit for service and its online version does, for example, not apply to my wife nor my daughter.
- I hope it is not necessary to point out that by leaving the EU, the UK has put itself in direct worldwide competition for academics with other countries. To illustrate the point, I am writing this letter while on a visiting professorship at a Chinese university.
- I would expect to being able to continue to work in the UK under the same conditions as of now. I would not want to be made to reapply to my current position as part of any home office “crackdown on immigrants”, nor would I want to be subject to lengthy paperwork simply to continue doing the work I am already doing.
- My wife has been enjoying a full work permit since we came in 2002. She only started to work once our daughter was somewhat older, but she now regularly works in the local schools in the Warwick and Leamington Spa area. We would clearly expect her to be able to continue to work in the UK from 2019 onwards.
- In the initial years at Warwick, we received child benefit, but no other social benefits. After 15 years in the UK, with all taxes, national insurance, etc. paid, I expect that my family will be able to enjoy all benefits of a UK national in a similar situation. This is, in particular, in the hopefully unlikely situation, that we would need to apply for jobseeker and/or similar such benefits in the future.
- We currently enjoy full access to the NHS’ services. I had little need to use these until a motorbike accident last year. I would expect that we will continue to have full access to the NHS without additional payment or restrictions.
- Furthermore, as part of the current EU membership privileges of the UK, were we to move back to Germany, our contributions to the UK’s social benefits would be counted towards any potential such benefits in Germany. I would expect that this agreement continues to be honored by both sides after 2019.
Access to education
- Our daughter is currently in her penultimate year at A level, set to graduate in 2018. She will then look for a place at a university. At present, we are considering UK, German and other EU universities. She has a German but no UK passport. We are now concerned that (i) she might have to pay higher university fees in the UK if she were to stay here. Or, (ii) if she were to go and study in the EU, whether she will be able to return to the UK after her 4-5 years abroad? Obviously, we feel strongly that being able for our daughter to continue to come back to the UK after her studies abroad is a crucial issue determining our future in the UK as a family.
- We do enjoy living in the UK at present. However, upon retirement in 15+ years, we might very well want to return to Germany or indeed, my wife’s home. At present, EU regulations safeguard my pension rights in Germany and the UK. I would want to see that these regulations are being kept and safeguarded for any current EU national in the UK.
- In order to contribute towards my family’s financial security and to supplement our retirement, I have been contributing to a life insurance in Germany since the mid-1990s. It is my understanding that it is current EU law which enables insurance providers to offer their services across EU boundaries. I fear that the insurance company might take the opportunity to cancel the contract when the UK leaves the EU in 2019 (which would be financially beneficial to them). I am therefore asking you to make sure that such existing contracts are being safeguarded in the Brexit negotiations.
Citizenship and disenfranchisement
- Until now, we EU citizen in the UK were welcomed as fellow EU citizen, giving us shared rights and responsibilities. I fear that upon leaving the EU, we will revert to being “foreigners”, or, indeed, “immigrants”. It must be clear that for people with choice of their destination, this is not an acceptable long-term situation. The UK should therefore think hard and innovatively about a way to make such people welcome. If we were to be offered, for example, a quick and easy route to UK citizenship, we would most likely take it. However, the present such system is not attractive as it seems designed to keep people out rather than to welcoming them in.
- The current 3 million EU citizen in the UK are most likely to stay in the UK at least in the short-term. This is already clear from the UK’s need to safeguard its own citizen now in the EU. However, the long-term perspective is less clear. Allow me, as a German national, to suggest that Germany’s treatment of its own, mostly Turkish, immigrant population has not been beneficial to either party. In particular, Germany’s reluctance to grant quick and easy access to citizenship status has led to a core of disenfranchised German-born nominally non-Germans living somewhat isolated in the heart of Germany. The UK would do well to avoid this trap. In this context, I would find it useful if continued voting rights in local elections could be extended to EU citizen in the UK. It is practice at present, has led to no discernible loss of democracy or large-scale local power shifts that I am aware of and is a great way to engage EU citizen in their local communities. Indeed, my wife, as citizen of a Commonwealth country, enjoys already much more inclusive voting rights.
- I have been distressed that, after the Brexit vote last year, parliament has yet to engage with EU citizens in the UK in a broad and inclusive manner. While much importance had been attached to calls for evidence from parliament on the impact of the Brexit vote for UK businesses, UK financial services and UK higher education institutions, I am yet to see a proactive initiative by parliament and, indeed, you as a local MP, to directly engage with the 3M EU citizens currently in your care. This lack of interest does not bode well for the future.
The UK decided to leave the EU. I respect that decision although I did not wish for it to happen. It is now the UK’s responsibility to make sure it has an offer in place to make it attractive for my family to remain after 2019. Such an offer should be in place soon. We will of course follow the EU-UK negotiations with interest, but our family’s future will be decided by how quickly, fairly and welcoming the UK engages with us as current residents and, hopefully, valuable assets it wishes to retain.
Rudolf A Roemer
PhD, Dr. rer. nat. habil., DSc, FInstP