Thousands of Britons – notably younger ones anxious to retain the right to live, work and travel freely abroad – are inquiring about obtaining citizenship in other European Union countries following the Brexit vote in last month's referendum.
Some, including descendants of Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain and Portugal in the Middle Ages, are going back 500 years in a bid to find ancient forebears as, under recent legislation, they might be able to apply for a Spanish or Portuguese passport.
Sigmar Gabriel, the German vice-chancellor, has called for the country's dual citizenship laws, which currently ban German passport-holders also having citizenship of a non-EU country, to be amended in the wake of the Brexit vote.
Pointing out that a majority of young Britons had voted to remain in the EU, Mr Gabriel told a meeting of the Social Democratic Party, “They knew better than the snobs in the British elite that this was about their future. We can’t just pull the drawbridge up.
"Let’s offer (dual citizenship) to young Brits who live in Germany, Italy or France, so they can remain here as EU citizens.”
Members of the opposition Green Party in Germany have already called for the government to act to reassure British expats working in Germany about their future, while the German embassy in London has reported that it has had "dozens" of inquiries from descendants of persecuted ancestors who fled the Nazi regime last century. Under the German constitution, descendants of former German citizens "who were persecuted on political, racial or religious grounds between 30 January 1933 and 8 May 1945" are entitled to citizenship.
Meanwhile, the number of UK citizens seeking to obtain Irish citizenship last week saw post offices run out of passport application forms and led to calls for Irish Republic passport offices to be opened in Belfast and Londonderry.
In London, Poland's consulate has been receiving about 1,000 emails and phone calls a week about Polish citizenship, mainly from Britons with Polish ancestry, while the Italian embassy said it had received more than 500 inquiries since the referendum – more than the embassy had received in the entire first half of 2016.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi suggested last week that EU nations were already considering a scheme under which British students at universities on the continent could be offered citizenship.
In Belgium, officials said there had been "an explosion" in citizenship enquiries from British expats looking for ways to remain in Brussels after Brexit. The Belgian capital is currently home to around 24,000 British expats, who mostly work for EU institutions and NATO.
A spokesman at the Dutch embassy in London said, “Since the EU referendum result, we have received around 200-250 inquiries by email about nationality. That includes both British citizens inquiring about applying for Dutch nationality, and Dutch citizens resident in the UK inquiring about British nationality. This is around 10 times the number we would receive in an ordinary week.”
And it has not only been EU nations that Britons have been eyeing. The Canadian embassy in London reported a 325 per cent increase in UK users accessing its Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada website on the day after the referendum. Although the surge has since tailed off, daily usage is still running some 60 per cent above normal.
Read analysis of what the vote to leave the EU may mean for for the global mobility industry in Brexit is a reality – a new era for global mobility? by Relocate Global's managing editor, Fiona Murchie.
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