It’s another step into the unknown of the post-Brexit world. Fearing they might soon be citizens of nowhere, a growing number of Britons are applying for EU passports and dual citizenship before Brexit becomes official, with record numbers of applications coming into numerous countries.
Citizenship Through Ancestry
One of the most common ways to apply for citizenship in other EU countries is if a person has family ties, such as parents or grandparents born in the country. In Ireland, officials report that the level of citizen applications from the UK over the course of a single month are on par with what they typically see over the course of an entire year.
Germany, which has long been a popular country for dual citizenship, reports a 40 times increase in applications over the past year, especially among Jewish people living in Britain and descendants of Holocaust sufferers. Other countries throughout Europe, notably Denmark, Sweden, and Portugal, have also said their numbers for dual citizen and passport applications have seen a major increase lately.
In the wake of Brexit, many people are tapping into their ancestral roots around Europe. Part of the large jump in German applications is from people who were persecuted on religious or political grounds in the 1930s and 1940s. An estimated 6 million people from the UK have some form of Irish heritage, which means they can apply for citizenship there. And people certainly are—passport applications from Britain increased by 71% and 77% in Ireland and Northern Ireland, respectively, over the same time last year.
Other Citizen Applications
Even if a person doesn’t have strong family ties to a country, they may still be able to apply for citizenship. Malta and Cyprus, for example, will grant citizenship to investors, but it can take a large chunk of change. Italy isn’t as stringent with its ancestral ties, meaning there is no limit to how far back an ancestor had to be born in Italy for a person alive today to get citizenship.
Most EU countries grant citizenship to spouses of their country’s nationals, meaning being married to someone from another country could help get you dual citizenship. Applications in many of these countries is also up in the wake of the Brexit vote.
Reasons for Citizenship Changes
So why are people flocking to other countries? Reasons range from travel needs to a new cultural identity and wanting to take advantage of EU membership while it lasts.
“I would describe it mainly as an insurance policy,” says former Labour politician Steven Purcell, who recently was awarded dual citizenship in Ireland. “It is convenience mainly. I travel a lot, and I want an EU passport. It is also about who I am: I feel European. In a sense the poll has made me feel less British. Brexit has made me question my identity. I don’t want to be closed off from the rest of the world.”
Even politicians are encouraging citizens to look elsewhere, with Democratic Unionist MP Ian Paisley Junior recommending, “If you are entitled to a second passport then take one… my advice is to take as many as you can, especially if you travel to different world trouble zones.”
The increase in passport applications highlights bigger issues of British identity and global citizenship. Many people fear that the UK will be shut off from the rest of the world after it leaves the EU and could even be at risk for disintegrating within its own borders. However, it could take years of negotiations before Brexit is official and the official UK passports return, which is expected to cost £500 million.
There are also an unknown number of UK citizens living in other EU countries for work or other opportunities that will be affected by Brexit, it is unknown if they will be able to continue to work and live outside their home countries. Resolution in that area is expected to come through the upcoming Brexit negotiations.