Brexit Changes Coming for Brits in Cyprus
Fiona Parsley, Currency Solutions’ Cyprus branch manager raced into her office early that June morning when the Brexit results came in. Expats who trust her to transfer their pensions from Pounds into Euros were panicked by the immediate slash of their income. From half seven, Fiona was flooded with clients asking: “What will happen to the exchange rate?”. That remains a critical consideration for Brits living abroad as we look ahead to Brexit negotiations.
Having their pensions cut by currency fluctuations is just one worry expats have about Brexit. Expats across Europe are in limbo, waiting to hear if they’ll lose the rights to free healthcare or have their pensions frozen. After the vote, Cyprus’ President Nicos Anastasiades told Cypriots living in the UK to “stay calm”, noting the “special relationship” and Cyprus’ membership in the Commonwealth.
Exactly how will the terms of this “special relationship” soften the inevitable changes Brexit brings? Will the approximately 63,000 Brits in Cyprus find their legal status limited? Would you be surprised to know that many expats voted in favour of Brexit-specifically hoping to limit EU immigration into the UK? They didn’t anticipate they’d be risking their own ability to live in Europe. Now there’s a possibility that Brits will have to register every year for permission to live in Cyprus- like Russians, Americans and other non-EU citizens, as third country nationals.
12 Point Plan
One of the 12 points of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan includes guaranteeing the rights of the 3 million EU nationals living in the UK in exchange for securing the rights of British nationals living in EU member states. She said she wants to: “…give people the certainty they want straight away, and reach such a deal now.” She can’t, however, because one or two EU leaders aren’t ready to do this yet.
She was immediately criticized by the group Expat Citizens Rights in Europe (ECREU) for not assuring expats their healthcare rights would continue and state pensions wouldn’t be frozen. Both are promises she could have made independently as the funds come from the UK coffers. Her speech fell short of the 1st of the government’s 12 points of certainty whenever possible as far as expats were concerned.
Free movement: A 2-way street
Some joke that more Cypriots live in London than in Cyprus, but the issue of free movement has serious implications for expats in both countries. Almost half of all Cypriots live abroad; 2014 census figures showed 270,000 in the top destination-London. Twice as many EU nationals live in the UK as the 1.2 million Brits living across Europe. It’s positive that those already living in the UK are protected, but what are the new immigration limits that’ll be imposed on Cypriots in future?
Many scoff at the notion of Cyprus changing its laws if the UK insists on strict immigration limits; making the argument that Cyprus relies heavily upon British buyers for property sales, and can’t afford to lose expats. Actually, this isn’t the case any longer (although British holiday-makers still boost the economy) because UK buyers account for just 20% of the foreigners purchasing property. Ten years ago, British buyers made up 70% of that market, but today’s foreign buyers include Russians and Chinese purchasers.
What price citizenship?
No changes will happen until Brexit negotiations conclude, although some prefer taking pre-emptive action. George Pertz, QC, an expert on EU law pointed out the reciprocal nature of the negotiations. If the UK doesn’t allow EU nationals to keep living in Britain after Brexit, UK expat rights would “become exactly the same as (those of) an American or Argentine.” He said: “Anyone British who is in a position to get citizenship of another EU country, through marriage or investment, would be well advised to do so.”
For an investment of €2m, you can attain a Cypriot passport granting you EU rights including visa-free access to over 150 countries. This is less expensive than the UK’s £2m investor visa which permits you 3 years of residency. After 2 years, you can apply to settle by investing £10m, or after 3 years, by investing £5m.
As Currency Solutions’ phone lines were ringing non-stop the morning after Brexit, so were estate agencies that process Cypriot passports. A sales manager at Cyprus’ BuySell reported receiving 15 serious inquiries from Brits seeking citizenship, noting that he’d never had a single call before Brexit.
You can better appreciate the value of EU membership for those living in Europe when you compare it with the rules all other nationalities must follow to live and work in Cyprus.
All foreigners in Cyprus are legally organized into 2 categories:
1. EU members. About 60% of Cyprus’ 179,000 foreign residents are from EU countries, giving them permission to live and work in Cyprus. They have access to free or reduced cost healthcare and can vote in local elections. Once they’ve registered and proven they have sufficient financial resources, they have indefinite residency.
2. Those from all other countries, classified: ‘Third Country Nationals’. The lion’s share are immigrants employed as temporary domestic workers, with around 10,000 Filipinos comprising the largest population while Vietnamese and Sri Lankans are also employed in large numbers.
The 2nd largest group of 3rd country nationals in Cyprus are the approximately 9,000 Russians making investments that allow them residency. Also, the increasing number of Chinese families want to raise their children in the healthier, comparatively unpolluted atmosphere, sending them to the private English schools.
2 Types of Residency Visas for Third Country Nationals
Most non-EU members who have permission to live in Cyprus have Category F visas. They can apply for a permanent residency visa by purchasing property valued at €350,000 if they have enough income to support themselves without working.
Another category F visa is a temporary and renewed annually. Each year the person must show:
• Bank Statements/Proof of Income
• Title Deeds or Contract for Cyprus property valued under €350,000
• Bank guarantee of € 900
• Medical Insurance
Most category F visas are held by pensioners or retired persons. They’re not permitted to work unless an employer applies for their work visa. The company has to give employment priority to EU nationals before hiring a 3rd country national.
A window of opportunity
When precisely will the laws change? After the 2 year negotiations or from the time Article 50 is triggered? Brits planning to move to Cyprus have the challenge of trying to prepare for Brexit policy changes. Few will make the €2m investment to secure citizenship, but you don’t need citizenship to live on the island. There’s insightful speculation that the rules will remain the same for those registered under the current rules. This sentiment suggests that buying and registering as a resident before Brexit is finalised might secure the same preferential status EU members enjoy today.
Because the Pound has been battered by Brexit speculation, many have put off purchasing property, hoping the exchange rate improves. However, with a currency specialist saving you money this might actually be a brilliant time to buy. The market doesn’t like uncertainty, which will only continue as long as it takes to complete Brexit negotiations, so the exchange rate isn’t likely to improve and property prices are steadily rising. Buying a home for €350,000 (which can be rented long term to offset your costs) might be the best way to secure your future residency on the island if Brexit means Brits lose the EU right to live across Europe.