Brexit and Me

Happy Brexit week! Hahahahaha. Just kidding. Don’t throw anything at me. Anyway, I guess we may get a bit of a reprieve, if that march yesterday is any indication. Hurrah for drawing this whole thing out even more. Not. A few weeks ago, Dutch News (local English-language news podcast and website) launched a cosy little series called ‘Brexit and me‘, where people could share their feelings and contingency plans in the run-up to Brexit. British people mostly, of course, since they are the people around here who are in general most directly affected by their country’s imminent retreat from Everyone Else.

I am obviously not British, but as an anglophone expat in Amsterdam I feel only slightly more surrounded by Dutch people than British ones. So I have witnessed quite a bit of despairing during the past two years over the Calamity of Not Being European that is shortly to befall them. As someone who was born suffering from just such a Calamity, and has spent inordinate amounts of time, energy, stress and money attempting to remedy said Calamity, I fully sympathise.

The Dutch government has been extraordinarily pragmatic and well-organised about preparing for Brexit (much more so than the British government itself, I must say), and has worked out what seems to be a perfectly adequate transition plan for British nationals presently exercising their soon-to-be-evaporating right to free movement within the EU. Nevertheless, a note of simmering panic has been discernible ever since the fateful vote.

I know people who have accelerated plans to move here from Britain (and vice versa) in advance of the looming uncertainty of Brexit. And of course all my British friends are scrambling to see what other useful passports they might be able to scrounge up for themselves. The most obvious opportunity is an Irish passport, obtainable in some cases through a parent or grandparent or birth in any corner of the island of Ireland. For those who have married locals or lived here long enough (and learnt sufficient Dutch), a Dutch passport can be relatively easy to obtain, although in many instances requires the renunciation of one’s previous nationality.

The Great British Passport Rush also extends to Italy. Last fall I was informed by an Italian friend here whose British husband had recently applied for Italian citizenship by marriage that the Italian government has now extended the processing time for new citizenship applications from two years to four. Further investigation on my part unearthed the disturbing possibility that the four-year processing time may be retroactive, thus affecting my own citizenship application. I am trying not to be bitter about this. I am by now used to living with the Calamity of Not Being European, and I empathise with all the British people similarly trying to escape it through Italian means. But now I have my own little Brexit and Me story.

My goal was to get Italian citizenship before my five-year Dutch residency permit expires in December of 2020. October of 2019 will mark two years since I submitted my application, so I thought I was on pretty solid ground. But Brexit has turned my solid ground, like that of all my British friends, to sand that might get washed into the North Sea during the next storm.

So I guess I will have to figure out what to do about extending my Dutch residency. Accordingly, I have spent some time bouncing around from page to page of the Dutch immigration website, trying to find the scenario that best fits my current situation. I’ve so far ascertained that simply renewing my permit isn’t possible. Apparently I have to apply all over again. Fortunately, this should actually be less of a problem than last time around. We had a hard time back then proving that my EU/EEA spouse was financially able to support me, since I was the one with the full-time job, and we weren’t allowed to use any of my income. He has since been cleverly increasing his earning potential by leaps and bounds, while I will shortly be entering the negatively remunerative profession of graduate student. So I guess I am back in my proper position as a legal and literal ‘dependent’ of my EU/EEA spouse. Um, yay?

Alternatively, it seems that after five years of legal residency here I may be able to apply for Permanent Residency. I’m not sure what the benefit of that would be (other than not having to prove every five years that my EU/EEA spouse is still capable of supporting me). Becoming a Permanent Resident requires that a person take the Dutch ‘Civic Integration’ exam, an endlessly controversial behemoth to which things keep getting added every year or two. Presently it consists of the following parts:

  • Participation statement
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Listening
  • Knowledge of Dutch Society
  • Orientation on the Dutch Labour Market

Apparently last year there was some huge scandal where people were putting the answers to the civic integration exam online, and they stopped giving it entirely while they sorted things out. I’ve also heard that the language portion is being made a lot harder at the beginning of next year, so if I want to take it I guess now is the time. On the up side, the Italian government also just added a language requirement to their citizenship application, and I’ve apparently dodged the bullet on that one, since I haven’t heard anything about that part being retroactive. The sad thing is, I could probably pass the Italian one right now. Pretty sure I’d need at least another Dutch class or two to pass the Dutch one.

Following the links on this subject through the immigration website throws me into a sort of infinite loop (so typical of immigration services in every country I’ve ever been in), so I am not totally sure whether this Permanent Residency thing is something I can even do as a dependent of an EU/EEA citizen. And it says right on the website on the page with the toll number where you can pay to talk to them that the Dutch immigration service is ‘quite busy at the moment’. Hm, I wonder why they could be so busy just now? Just kidding. We all know they’re busy taking care of all the panicking British people trying to escape their Calamity. They suggest that you instead contact them via Twitter, adding (un)helpfully that they will nevertheless not provide any personal or case related information via Twitter.

There’s also in theory the possibility of applying for Dutch citizenship. However, that would require me to give up my American citizenship (and the distant, shining holy grail of my potential Italian citizenship), so it’s not an especially attractive idea, especially since getting rid of an American passport for any reason gets more and more ridiculously expensive every year.

The Brexit silver lining is, I suppose, that several European countries that currently place serious restrictions on dual nationality are presently rethinking their policies. The Dutch government is mulling over a proposal to relax its own fairly draconian discouragement of dual nationality sometime next year. So I guess eventually if the Italian citizenship thing keeps getting pushed off indefinitely into the future in some sick bureaucratic parody of Zeno’s paradox, I could eventually theoretically go through the whole process of applying for citizenship in a different country. Shoot me now.

To put all this whining in briefer terms, because I could go on and on and shouldn’t, I had my whole immigration life all worked out so I wasn’t going to have to think about it again for a good long while, and now Brexit, in its own inimitable, annoying, round-about way, is forcing me to stress out over my pet stress-subject all over again. Not cool, Brexit. I’m going to go pout in a corner for awhile.

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