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Don’t panic, I’m talking about expats in the EU.

As reported in today’s CIPD bulletin, groups representing professionals in various industries recently testified to a Commons Select Committee that unless the UK takes action to ensure EU member states continue to recognize British professional qualifications, professionals may lose their eligibility to practice.  Yikes.

What could this mean for British professionals abroad and how likely is this to become a problem?

Like most professionals (not to mention most expats, I would think) I was against Brexit on the grounds that I see it as an affront to the Smithsonian economic principle that liberalisation is the pathway to long term growth and prosperity while protectionism, alluring though it may be, generally leads to decline.  Obviously a majority of the British public disagreed.

I think the problem for the British government in resolving this particular stand off may be that it is just one of the many issues on which they cannot have their cake and eat it too.  The only way to ensure British nationals can continue to work in the EU is to allow EU nationals to work in the UK, recognition of professional qualifications is just a part of this.

Certainly countries can recognize one another’s professional qualifications without giving them any right to be able to work or reside in the country and that does seems the most sensible and likely outcome.  But how this reciprocity would be achieved is another matter.  While the loss of eligibility will be an automatic consequence of Brexit (presumably on the timeline set in motion through article 50), negotiating cross border reciprocity may be anything but, left to independent regulatory bodies in each profession in each country.

National professional associations may (ironically) see it as a chance to benefit their members by reducing competition from overseas.  Laws may need to be changed in some cases, politicizing the issue.  All this would take time to resolve.

While I can’t see it ultimately being an issue it may be a stressful and uncertain time for British expats in Europe.  If Cayman’s experience with rollover tells us anything it is that professionals don’t wait around for a crisis to resolve; uncertainty in itself can be a reason for expats to return home.

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