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UPDATE: British residents of EU told not to worry about ‘souvenir’ passport stamps

In recent days it has emerged that scores of British nationals living in EU countries have wrongly had their passports stamped with a date of entry when returning home. One couple was told to contact a lawyer, but the message from authorities is "don't panic".

UPDATE: British residents of EU told not to worry about 'souvenir' passport stamps
Photo: Ethan Wilkinson on Unsplash

British nationals coming to the EU have previously not needed to have their passport stamps but Brexit and the end of freedom of movement has changed things somewhat.

But while visitors are now subject to the Schengen area's 90-day rule, meaning they can spend a maximum of 90 days out of every 180 in the Schengen area, those Britons living in the EU are not and therefore should not have their passports stamped.

However reports have emerged in recent days that scores of Britons returning from a Christmas break in the UK have had a date stamped into their passport by border officials in EU countries.

There are reports that French border officials are routinely stamping all passports, while The Local has been contacted by Britons returning to Sweden, Germany and other EU countries who have also had an entry date stamped in their passport.

'Contact a lawyer'

Catherine Keens, who returned to Munich from Manchester, said her passport was stamped on arrival in Germany despite her asking border officials not to do so.

“The border control agent seemed unsure whether to stamp our passports or not and asked his colleague, who also seemed unsure. I asked that they didn't stamp our passports, but they were stamped nonetheless,” she said.

“We now both have a stamp in our passports and are concerned that it has started the clock ticking for the 90 days in 180 days scenario, which of course doesn't apply to us as we live here.”
 
When she contacted the British Consulate in Munich she received some worrying advice.
 
“I emailed the British Embassy in Munich to ask how we can have this action reversed or made invalid but they have said I need to contact a lawyer to try and find a solution. They say they can't help at all.
 
“We feel abandoned by the British government and don't really know who to call or what to do about it. We realise there are many more in the same situation, but this is little consolation.”
 
Britons returning to France over the New Year had similar experiences.
 
Kalba Meadows from the France Rights group told The Local: “Over the weekend in France, for example, it seems that all entry points were stamping passports – same in many other EU countries.”
 
Meadows, whose group is part of British in Europe, said she had asked the EU Commission for answers.
 
 
'Could be issues down the line'
 
“The main issue is that a passport stamp means, in theory at least, that the person has entered the Schengen area as a visitor not as a resident, thus setting off the 90 day clock,” she said.
 
“So there could be issues down the line, in April, when they get to the end of the permitted period for visitors.”
 
Similar questions have been raised by British in Germany.
 
“I’ve had reports from Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich and Düsseldorf of people having their passports stamped,” says the group's Matt Bristow.
 
“Theoretically it sets a clock ticking to leave the Schengen zone within 90 days.”
 
If you had your passport stamped your right to stay in Germany isn’t affected, Bristow says, but it could lead to questions when crossing the Schengen border in future.
 
British in Germany are currently speaking to authorities and asking them to formally address this issue.
 
The Local has asked British government representatives and the EU Commission for a response and for advice for those citizens who have had their passports stamped.
 
'Just a souvenir'
 
The UK embassy in Berlin told The Local as expected that residents should not have their passports stamped.
 
“A stamp in your passport does not alter your rights under the Withdrawal Agreement, such as your right to reside here and to receive a new residence document. We have raised this issue with the German authorities.”
 
German immigration authorities responded by saying: “Stamping a passport at the border does not mean that a decision on residence status has been taken.
 
“The stamp merely documents that the passport holder was checked in the place stated on the stamp, whether this check had been performed in the course of an entry or exit, and which means of transport was used.
 
“The stamp entails neither the loss of rights under the Withdrawal Agreement nor in any other way a change of legal status. Consequently, a stamp on entry does not need to be annulled and may be retained unaltered in the passport as a souvenir.
 
But German authorities did warn that those with stamps should take proof of residence next time they travel abroad outside the Schengen area.
 
“If however someone exits the Schengen area more than 90 days after their passport was stamped, then they should also carry with them a document demonstrating their current residence status, for example as a beneficiary of the Withdrawal Agreement,” the statement read.
 
Meanwhile the British embassy in France has tried to reassure UK residents in France.
 
'Rights not affected'
 
In a Facebook post they wrote: “Your rights in France will not be affected if your passport is incorrectly or unnecessarily stamped.
 

 
 
“It will also not affect your ability to apply for a Withdrawal Agreement Residency permit as long as you can demonstrate that you were settled in France by 31 December 2020.
 
Officials added: “If you cannot show that you are already resident in France, you may be asked additional questions at the border to enter the Schengen area, and your passport may be stamped.
 
“You will be able to show evidence you live in France (as above) the next time you cross the border.
 

“The Embassy is liaising with the French authorities on how these rules are being applied at the French border.”
 
It's likely therefore that the stamping of passports can be put down to teething problems as EU countries become accustomed to Brexit. But while those Brits who have had their passports stamped are told not to worry, it wouldn't be a surprise if some do have issues when crossing Schengen borders in future.

 
If you have been affected by this issue you can contact The Local at [email protected] or British in Europe on Twitter @BritishinEurope.

Member comments

  1. I’m American with a French residence/titres de séjour, and normally show both my passport and Titres de Séjour at the border. Occasionally I get stamped, but mostly not. The stamp itself doesn’t seem to be a problem, given that the Titres de Séjour proves my residency, so I’ve never had issues getting home to France. I would suspect Britons will eventually fall into the same rhythm that every other non-EU person in Europe faces. Good luck to all those stranded.

  2. Just goes to prove that all British Embassies are a waste of time, are only there for entertaining, for the employees to live and work in opulence.

  3. As a UK citizen and Swiss residency permit holder (B), does that give me the right to travel throughout the entire Schengen region without have to worry about the 90/180 days restriction? Or does the clock start ticking the moment I leave Switzerland into e.g. Germany/France/Italy? Obviously there is no passport stamping going to happen when travelling between Schengen countries, so my assumption would be that my Swiss permit effectively exempts me from the Schengen time limitation because they wouldn’t be able to police it? It’s totally not clear though!

  4. I travelled within Western Europe from 1970 upwards and I never ever had my passport stamped. I also lived and worked in the Netherlands for a year from 1974. I cant understand all this passport stamping.

  5. Regarding policing – yes most of the time nobody is stopped however the 90 day rule legally applies but if not stopped on at the border on the way out of Switzerland you could say any date you wanted if asked later
    5.1 Do third-country nationals (non EU/EFTA) with a Swiss residence permit require a visa for the other Schengen states
    Third-country nationals (non EU/EFTA) in possession of a Swiss permit B, C, L and Ci may visit the Schengen area for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa, provided they have a residence permit and a valid travel document

  6. You simply need to take your ID card with you… in fact, it is probably valid for travel within the EU. If you show a passport, that document doesn’t certify that you are resident, so you will be treated exactly the same as all other UK passport holders as citizens of a non-EU country now. The passport authorities are NOT going to take your word that you are EU resident… but if you bring your proof (ID card) you won’t have any problems.

    1. This isn’t true. We had our Italian ID cards with us today but the Slovenia border patrol stamped our passports anyway .

  7. As British Subjects have a limited stay in EU countries, it seems quite logical that their passports should be stamped on entry to Schengen countries. If someone has German residence this does not give him/her unlimited stay in France, Austria or other EU Schengen countries. However it would be difficult to check how much time is spent in the other countries. If the authorities want to be difficult the onus would be on the individual to prove how long he has spent there.

  8. As a serial immigrant, I can tell you that border personnel all over the world have a varying level of antipathy towards foreigners. The best I experienced was Canada, the worst without doubt the USA – incredibly aggressive and, frankly, rude apart from one exceptionally nice chap at the Buffalo crossing from Canada.
    It doesn’t surprise me at all that a lot of border staff are ignorant of the requirements. They are not well paid and, well, ‘peanuts/monkeys’.

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TRAVEL NEWS

EXPLAINED: What the EU’s new EES system means for travel to Austria

From biometric checks to the 90-day rule and visas - the European Commission has explained to The Local what the EU's new EES system means for people travelling in and out of Austria.

EXPLAINED: What the EU's new EES system means for travel to Austria

You might have seen some rather dramatic headlines about the EU ‘harvesting biometric data’ – so here’s what the EU’s new Entry and Exit System (EES) – due to come into effect next year – actually means if you are travelling in and out of Austria.

The system has been in the works since 2013 and is due to come into effect in May 2023 – although it has been postponed several times before.

It has four stated aims – to improve and modernise border systems; to reinforce security and aid the fight against crime and terrorism; to help EU member states deal with increasing traveller numbers without having to increase the numbers of border staff; and to systematically identify over stayers within the Schengen area [ie people who have stayed longer than their visa or 90-day limit allowance].

The system doesn’t actually change any of the EU’s rules about travel, length of stay etc, but it will make enforcing them easier.

EES is different to ETIAS, which is due to come into effect later in 2023. That won’t affect residents, but will require tourists and those on a short visit to pay €7 for a holiday visa – full details on that HERE.

Where?

The EES is for EU external borders – so if you are travelling between Austria and Germany nothing will change but if you are entering Austria from a non-EU country (including the UK) the new system comes into play.

Who? 

It applies to all non-EU citizens. Dual-nationals are exempt if they are travelling on their EU passport. 

When?

The current start date is May 2023.

What?

Basically the EES changes how passports are checked at the border.

The first change is the addition of biometric data – in addition to the current details in your passport (name, DOB etc) the system will also record facial images and fingerprints of all passengers – so it will be similar to going to the US, where foreign arrivals already have to provide fingerprints.

The second change is through recording onto the system complete details of entry and exit dates; how much of their 90-day limit (if applicable) people have used and whether they have previously been refused entry (see below for full details on the 90 day rules).

Exactly how this applies varies slightly depending on your circumstances.

Tourists – this is the most straightforward category and the one that will apply to the majority of travellers. For tourists or those coming for a short visit little will change apart from having to give fingerprints when they enter. They will also be told how long they can stay in the Schengen area – for visitors from non-Schengen-visa countries like the UK, USA, Canada and Australia this will be 90 days, easily long enough for most holidaymakers.

Second-home owners and other regular visitors without a visa – if you’re a regular visitor to Austria from a non-EU country you will already know about the 90-day rule – find a full explanation HERE.

The rule itself doesn’t change, but one of the stated aims of the new system is to catch overstayers, so anyone hoping to ‘slip under the radar’ with regards to the 90-day limit should forget that idea.

Instead of the current and rather inconsistent system of passport-stamping, each entry and exit to the EU is automatically logged on the system, so that border guards can see how long you have spent in the Schengen area in the preceding 180 days, and whether you have overstayed your limit. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What happens if you overstay your 90-day limit in Austria?

Residents in Austria  – if you are a citizen of a non-EU country but have residency in Austria then you are not constrained by the 90-day rule. Under the current system you show your visa or permit at the border and the border official should refrain from stamping your passport.

The automated system does away with passport stamping – which has become a headache for residents since it is inconsistently applied in some countries.

However at this stage it appears that there is no way to link a visa or residency card to a passport for automatic scanning.

The European Commission told The Local: “Non-EU nationals holders of residence permits are not in the scope of the Entry/Exit System and ETIAS. When crossing the borders, holders of EU residence permits should be able to present to the border authorities their valid travel documents and residence permits.”

The Local France also asked the French Interior Ministry – who are in charge of operating border controls in France – and they told us: “EES only concerns non-European nationals, without a long-stay visa or residence permit, who are making private or tourist visits for periods of less than 90 days”.

In other words – EES does not concern people who are residents in an EU country or have a long-stay visa.

What this means in practice is that people with a visa or residency permit cannot use the automated passport gates, and must instead go to a manned booth so that they can show both their passport and residency card/visa. This is likely to mean extra waiting times at busy periods.

Second-home owners and frequent visitors with a visa – As with residents, anyone who has a visa must show it at the border in order to avoid starting the 90-day clock, and that means that visa holders cannot use the automated passport gates – as outlined above.

READ ALSO: How can British second home owners spend more than 90 days in Austria?

The Commison spokesman said: “If you are a non-EU national travelling for a short stay (maximum 90 days in any 180-day period) to a European country using the EES and if you hold a valid visa for your intended purpose of stay then you should present the valid passport and valid visa when crossing the borderYour stay is limited to the number of days authorised by your short stay visa.”

So how will this actually work in practice?

If you’re a tourist or short-stay visitor and you’re travelling by air you probably won’t notice much difference since many airports already have automated passport gates in place for certain travellers. In fact, the Commission says this system will be faster than the current system in place for non-EU arrivals.

If you are a resident, you need to remember to avoid the automated passport gates and choose a manned booth so that you can show your residency card or visa along with your passport.

The Commision told us: “Non-EU citizens residing in the EU are not in the scope of the EES and will not be subject to pre-enrollment of data in the EES via self-service systems. The use of automation remains under the responsibility of the Member States and its availability in border crossing points is not mandatory.”

However things are less clear for people travelling by car – though the control should be made at a Schengen border, not in Austria.

The EES system would require all passengers to get out of the car and have their passports and faces scanned, and scan fingerprints, which would obviously take longer. 

It could make popular trips south (with drivers going through Schengen border controls in the Slovenia-Croatian border) more complicate.

The Commission confirmed that decisions on installing new automated systems at the border is a decision for each Member State – so Slovenia, for example, will have the final say on new arrangements at its border with Croatia.

Further details on EES can be found here.

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