British citizen Jane Mayhew-Smith says she is worried that her job at the European Chemicals Agency in Helsinki could be on the line if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal on 29 March and she loses her status as a European citizen.
Mayhew-Smith moved to Helsinki from London 10 years ago and began working as a researcher at the European Chemicals Agency, ECHA, in 2008.
One of the main prerequisites for working at an EU agency is citizenship in one of the union’s member states. If the UK breaks from the bloc without an agreement to govern the future relationship between the two sides, then British citizens who don’t hold passports from EU country may lose their jobs in EU agencies.
"I am very worried. The situation has been very stressful since the result of the referendum in 2016. There is so much uncertainty. It’s even uncertain whether or not Brexit will happen at all," Mayhew-Smith said.
Mayhew-Smith’s family includes her freelance journalist husband and their two daughters aged 11 and eight, all of whom are UK citizens, however the younger of the girls was born in Finland.
Road to Finnish citizenship
Soon after the referendum result, Mayhew-Smith said she decided to seek Finnish citizenship and began intensive Finnish-language courses. She described the programme as tough, as it took place three evenings a week, leaving less time for family. After two years of studies, she passed the course in May 2018 and applied for citizenship in July of the same year.
"I also applied for citizenship for my girls because I want them to have the opportunity to live, study and work in Finland when they are older – if they want to."
The Finnish Immigration Service, Migri, said that it takes six to 10 months to process citizenship applications. For Mayhew-Smith, that means she could have a Finnish passport by April. By that time, the UK may have separated from the EU.
Both girls attend Helsinki’s European School, where the children of EU employees have guaranteed study places and do not pay tuition fees. According to Mayhew-Smith, if she loses her ECHA job, the family will have to pay the fees themselves.
"The school has said that the children can stay on but it’s not certain. There are limited study places because it’s a small school. Paying the tuition fees would be difficult if I didn’t have work," Mayhew-Smith commented.
She said that if she doesn’t get Finnish citizenship and cannot find another job in Finland, she will return to the UK with her family and will try to find work in the chemicals field.
Like other UK citizens living in Finland, Mayhew-Smith said Brexit has her especially concerned about health care, pensions and the right to study and work.
Possible changes to Kela benefits
Suvi Rasimus, head of the international affairs unit of benefits agency Kela, said that the agency is currently assessing how a no-deal Brexit would affect the benefits provided to Brits in Finland. She noted that in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal, Brits in Finland would for the most part have the same status as so-called third country (non-European) nationals, such as Russians.
Rasimus speculated that there would hardly be any changes to the benefits received by long-term residents in Finland, but with the ongoing Brexit negotiations still open, no one can make any definite pronouncements.
She called on Brits in Finland to follow updates from Kela and other government agencies adding that they would all provide new information as soon as they have something to tell.
According to the Finnish Immigration Service, Migri, there are currently just over 5,000 UK citizens residing in Finland. The agency has recommended that they all register their presence here.
However it said that for the moment, it cannot provide any guidance to UK nationals about what they should do to maintain their residency status post-Brexit.
The agency’s deputy chief Raimo Pyysalo told Yle that an estimated 150 UK citizens have applied to become naturalized Finns because of Brexit.