Three Questions That Expats Need Answered Before Voting in the Upcoming Referendum

07/06/2016 11:49

I won't pretend to be an authority on the subject, but as an expat business owner with operations in both England and Sweden, I feel as though I represent a very small minority of UK citizens. Firstly, I am not anti-Cameron, nor am I pro-Brexit. I do, however, believe that this whole fiasco should be a decision for our leader, NOT the general public. While I could have a lot to lose on a personal level, I don't feel equipped to make a decision that will benefit the entire country. However, with the referendum just weeks away, I feel like now is a good time to chime in and express my concerns.

There has been a lot of scaremongering from both sides over the last few months. While the Out camp has laid down some pretty convincing arguments, they are yet to publicly declare that expats will be safe from harm. To me, this silence makes it clear that it wouldn't be particularly good news! Therefore, I am voting to remain in the EU on the basis of fear. While it's not a decision I feel comfortable with, there's simply too much uncertainty to sway me in the other direction. Such as...

Will the Freedom of Movement Act still be honoured?

According to the Telegraph, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969 will ensure that previous acquired rights will remain, which debunks former attorney general Domonic Grieve's claim that "an EU exit could make two million Britons living abroad illegal immigrants overnight." While it's a relief to know that I won't have to pack up my bags and move back to England, there's nothing to say that certain privileges won't be cut or adapted, such as health care, pensions and public services. I haven't lived in Sweden for the five years required to gain citizenship rights; therefore, what will remain legally valid is yet to be seen.

How long will it take for the laws to change?

Since the announcement of the referendum, I have been making preparations to retain my right of residency. I've updated my migration permit and acquired for a social security number, which is valid until 2020. By the time it runs out I should have permanent right of residence, regardless of whether or not Britain remains in the EU. However, my brother (who has just moved to Sweden in March) doesn't have this luxury. With a nine month waiting list, his migration permit and social security number won't be granted until after the referendum. So does this mean that he will not be protected under the Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties 1969? - even the Swedish government couldn't answer my queries.

EU rules state that there is a two year legal limit on post-Brexit negotiations. Some reports, however, estimate that it could take longer. But without a definitive timeline, how are new expats - like my brother - supposed to make long-term plans to migrate abroad? Especially when they've been given no indication of which rights will remain legally valid.

What will happen to expat business owners?

Robert Carte, CEO of Your Company Formations Ltd, has stated that "Too many people on both sides of the channel will simply have too much too lose. Therefore, the current tax legislation is unlikely to change too drastically." While Paul Drechsler of the Confederation of British Industry has stated on numerous occasions that Brexit would leave British expats in a "significant period of uncertainty." Reinforcing the notion that nobody can predict what type/level of economic fallout could occur. Therefore, aside from speculation, we have absolutely nothing to go on.

As a VAT-registered business owner who lives abroad, but operates remotely in the UK, Brexit's impact on Value Added Tax is a major concern for me and many other freelancers in the same situation. The Refund Directive is crucial for the operation of my company, but if Brexit goes ahead, there's no guarantee that it would remain. If the UK no longer allow foreign businesses to recover UK VAT, there could be serious repercussions... and that's not to mention the chance of double taxation - which is a major issue among American expats who have clients in the United States. While it may take two or more years for new laws to pass if Brexit goes ahead, many businesses will need to start making preparations immediately.

I'd like to reiterate that these are merely the ramblings and concerns of the common man, or more specifically, the common expat. If there was a definitive answer to the above questions, I would be more inclined to look at the bigger picture; but unfortunately, my own selfish reasons must take centre stage. Truth be told, there's only one thing that everyone can agree on: nobody knows exactly what will happen. And on that basis alone, I am not willing to risk the well-being and privileges of myself, my family and the expat community. There are simply too many unanswered questions that should have been addressed before the referendum was even announced.