A furious Brit pensioner living in Spain says expats have been ‘screwed over’ by Brexit as he faces being sent back to the UK after 20 years.
From the end of March, Brits who lived in Spain and who did not have residency had to leave as they were deemed illegal immigrants.
In a further twist, one of the conditions that had to be met to gain residency was an income of £21,000 a year – ruling out thousands of UK pensioners living in Spain.
While many Brits who were able to sort out residency before the rule-change will be able to continue living the sun-soaked continental dream – others like those who own property or live on boats are seeing their continental dreams dashed.
The Mirror spoke to two Brits, and a EU citizen married to one, who say Brexit has left their retirement plans in tatters.
The fuming 72-year-old pensioner, who asked to be anonymous, said despite living in Spain with his Russian partner and their children for two decades they face being separated under the country’s new rules.
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The pensioner said his only hope of being allowed to stay is to marry his partner as she had a Latvian EU passport so can continue living in Spain.
He told The Mirror: “We have really been screwed over.
“I have worked here for years and so has my partner who is still working .
“She enjoys all the liberties of the United Kingdom legally and we own a home in Spain where she also enjoys all the liberties as she has an EU passport,.
“We spend four to six months a year in our home in Spain but now I have been discriminated against and must leave after 90 days and leave her there for as long as she so wishes .
“We have always been equal in everything we do but I have been told by the embassy that unless we marry under EU legislation I will not be allowed to stay with my partner and may not return to her for a further 180 days .
“I need care at my age and I’m dreading being forced to be on my own away from my partner and friends in Spain for such a long time.
“This oven-ready deal will break many long-term relationships and destroy the long-term plans that many EU/UK couples have carefully chosen in the younger lives.”
A hard-working Brit who owns a villa in Alicante she and her husband had hoped to spend half of every year in the property during their looming retirement.
But Marilyn Smyth, from Epping Forest, says their dreams have been all but ruined by Brexit.
Mrs Smyth said the couple bought the villa just over two years ago, place their faith in the UK government to negotiate a post-Brexit agreement with Spain that would support homeowners in the country.
After Brexit, British passport-holders like the Smyths can only travel in Schengen Area countries for up to 90 days in every 180-day period.
Mrs Smyth said she hoped the UK and Spain would still negotiate special travel arrangements for non-resident Brits whose houses contribute to the tourism economy.
She told the Mirror the couple never bought the villa to make a huge profit.
She had only hoped that when she retired they would be able spend November to February each year in the villa, while booking guests into it during Spain’s warmer months.
Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic’s blow to travel had left the couple wondering whether they had a future in the villa at all, she said.
“I didn’t ever do it to get rich, I did it because I genuinely want people to have a good time. It has been truly fabulous and we really, really care about our guests.
“Brexit has been a big enough pain – we worried about whether we’d be able to get in – how we’d be able to move around the airport.”
Mrs Smyth told the Mirror by the the time she pays for the villa’s upkeep including taxes, it costs around £11,000 a year to run the holiday property.
They book out the villa in the sun-bleached Costa Blanca town of Benitachell at about £150 a night for six guests during the high season, she said.
She also throws in a car for guests to use at the villa, which is privately booked only.
The dispute resolution consultant speaks fluent Spanish, and said she had always felt welcome as a Brit who spent a lot of time in the country.
She worries that unless travel rules change for the sores of Brits who own property in Spain, her dreams of a future there would vanish.
Mrs Smyth explained: “I didn’t want Brexit particularly but I didn’t get very distressed about it at all. But as time’s gone on, I’m feeling more and more alarmed because I don’t think enough has been done to ensure that people who have property abroad have been considered.”
Meanwhile Bert, who lives in Scotland, is worried about what the Brexit rule changes will mean for people who have spent their career working towards a life at sea.
He and his wife own a yacht and base themselves in Greece for months of every year.
Living on the yacht and sailing around Europe was a longtime retirement dream that they had worked towards.
Bert said: “It is our dream, really, to be able to travel for months – it would really be our life – and it’s not just us- many thousands of people are in the same position.”
Complex rules meaning UK-flagged yachts could have to pay VAT for vessels in both UK and the EU – on top of Schengen travel time limits – could make safe seafaring a nightmare, Bert told the Mirror.
The Cruising Association (CA) has launched a campaign on the issue and is seeking, among other policies, a 180-day cruising visa for boating communities.
Its campaign points out many many Brits keep their vessels moored at marinas and in canals around Europe.
Duties and tight travel time limits could force skippers to make dangerous return journeys to Britain to beat visa and VAT deadlines, the CA has warned.
Bert, a Dutchman married to a Brit, said the couple were in a tricky position like many inter-continental couples after Brexit.
He can sail in the Schengen area all he likes – but his wife cannot.
She would need to live in the Netherlands for five years with him before she could qualify for a spousal EU passport, Bert explained.
From now on, timing their journeys around seasonal weather patterns could mean only shorter trips from Scotland to Europe in the warmer months are possible.
And by June 2022 they will need to sail their yacht permanently moored in Greece back to Scotland to avoid added duties, her said.
Bert added that he knew people in the boating community who sold up their houses or caravans to live at sea.
Many British pensioners he met in Greece had spent the money they would have spent on homes on living on boats.
“People think boats mean you are rich, but it’s not always like that,” he said.
New UK immigration rules after Brexit
Bert said he hoped both sides would see the value boat communities held for the UK and Europe.
Instead of fleeting weekender tourism trips, they were regulars who made friends with locals, spent in the economy longer term, and made an effort to pick up languages.
Bert said the loss of the retirement sailing dream would be a blow for the friendship between the UK and the EU.
“Sailing is not just travel from A to B – you stay and explore the countryside. The Greek people are very, very friendly. It’s the same in Spain. You get to see how the other half is living.”