How UK-EU split might affect cross-border Filipinos

Vanda Marie Macion Brady, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at Mar 09 2019 02:48 PM

DUBLIN, Ireland – Everyday, at least 30,000 people cross the border between the European Union and the United Kingdom to visit, work, study, or run a business. 

It is common for individuals to switch between the two jurisdictions many times by travelling through the Common Travel Area (CTA) on the Border Region, which include Republic of Ireland counties Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan, Leitrim and Sligo, and Northern Ireland counties Derry, Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, and Tyrone. 

Currently the CTA internal borders allow free movement of British and Irish citizens between the two countries. 

On March 29, the United Kingdom (UK), which is made up of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, is scheduled to leave the European Union (EU). Many have become aware of this impending withdrawal called Brexit, which has now become a common household term coined from “British” and “Exit”. 

Since the 2016 Referendum where the UK first decided to leave the EU, the impact of various complex cross-border factors have become a constant concern: employment, business and agriculture, access to healthcare, social welfare and public service benefits, education, basic freedom of movement in the EU, the right to equal treatment, plus other related entitlements and opportunities. 

Filipino migrant workers, students and entrepreneurs who cross the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland border, are among those most affected.


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Derry-Donegal commuter Bernadette Tutaan Doherty fears losing her job and constantly monitors Green Card and other motorist regulations. 

Doherty finished her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing at the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines in 2001. She worked as a Coronary Care Unit nurse then a dialysis nurse at the Philippine Heart Center in Manila. 

She became part of the third wave of migration of nurses to the Republic of Ireland in 2005. She has since worked as a renal dialysis nurse at Letterkenny General Hospital in Donegal. 

A year after getting her Irish (ROI) passport in 2012, she married Belfast-born Mark Doherty whom she met through a work colleague. They have been living in Derry since then and now have a 4-year old son Matthew and 2-year old daughter Hannah. 

The ROI Census in 2016 recorded that Donegal accounted for the largest number of cross-border commuters with 5,600 commuters, 76 percent of whom travelled to Derry. 

Bernadette is only a 10-minute drive to the Irish border, and 20 to 30 minutes further is Letterkenny General Hospital where she works 3 times a week. 

She benefits from the Double Taxation Agreement between the UK and Republic of Ireland in which cross-border workers living in Northern Ireland are awarded a credit for any tax paid across the border. 

Strictly abiding by revenue requirements in both jurisdictions, Doherty pays her taxes every year in the Republic of Ireland and she declares her income to HM Revenue and Customs in the UK through a Self-Assessment. 

Cross-border workers living South working North can avail of Trans-Border Workers Relief, which will ensure that they do not pay any additional Irish (ROI) tax. There is no such relief for cross-border workers living North working South, so a top-up tax bill may be payable in the North. Doherty is not aware of this bill and will consult their accountant who has most likely included this in their annual tax declarations.

Like other cross-border workers, her family generates social insurance contributions in both Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland, which can be combined in order to gain social security benefits and pension entitlements, which can also be exported to different EU states. 

They also receive child benefits from Northern Ireland, as well as a Supplementary Welfare Allowance benefit from the Republic of Ireland. As a resident of Northern Ireland, Doherty is registered to a General Practitioner (GP) in the north and is not availing any ROI healthcare services. When she gets sick, she gives a certificate issued by her GP which is accepted in her workplace across the border. 

Doherty has an Irish (ROI) driving license and her car is covered by Northern Ireland Insurance. She has looked into the recent Green Card requirement and asked her insurance company for advice, but so far it is only applicable to motorists with Irish registered vehicles who travel from ROI to the UK.

She is lucky in a way because she earns in euros and her husband, who works in a retail company in Northern Ireland, earns in sterling. When torn between where to shop or spend a holiday, they have both currencies at hand at their convenience, and picks what is accessible in whichever side of the border they are at that moment. 

Her main concern with Brexit is whether she would still have her job as a nurse at Letterkenny Hospital, where she has built her career and forged friendships in the past 14 years. 

She certainly has that feeling of uncertainty when border checks and additional identity documents and permits may be required, not to mention the hassle of having to get both Irish and UK visas when her family visits them from the Philippines. 

But for now, she is a content cross-border worker, armed with a Republic of Ireland passport, happily availing public service entitlements and free movement between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. 


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Cross-border student Ellaine Leigh Alegarme dreads new fees and additional job residency requirements after completing her nursing degree. 

One of the main reasons for commuting the Irish border is to pursue chosen paths of education either for specific courses on offer or for a preferred quality of living. Many people study in the UK because a particular course is not available in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) or because the entry requirements are easier. As the scheduled date of the UK’s departure from the EU approaches, there remains a significant level of uncertainty on UK-EU relations, particularly in education. 

In 2001, Leigh’s mother Mary Grace came to Donegal with the second batch of nurses who arrived in the country. When she secured a permanent job as staff nurse at the Health System Executive (HSE) West at Letterkenny, she let her husband Edwardo II and their three children Ellaine Leigh, Edwardo III, and Erica join her. 

Mary Grace is now working at Letterkenny General Hospital and her family has always lived in Letterkenny, the largest and most populous town in Donegal.

In 2015, 2,195 students from the Republic of Ireland (ROI) attended higher education in Northern Ireland, while 1,007 NI students and 1,805 Great Britain (England, Scotland & Wales) students attended full time higher education in ROI. 

Leigh is one of those students from Donegal who decided to study in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. She is now a Second Year BSc Nursing (Adult Nursing) student at Queen’s University Belfast, which is one of 3 well-respected universities in the higher education sector in NI along with University of Ulster and Open University. 

She initially wanted to study in the UK when nursing tuition was free and because a bursary was given to students. She rejected the offer to study in Manchester because since the 2016 Brexit Referendum, students now have to pay 9,000 pounds plus fees per year and were not given any allowance, and there were major cutdowns in the National Health Service (NHS). 

In the UK, only Northern Ireland (NI) does not charge any fees and gives a monthly bursary. She decided to study at Queen’s not only because it was cheaper, but also because it was closer to home and the course will only take 3 years, a shorter duration compared to other nursing degrees. 

Leigh is an Irish (ROI) citizen and currently gets free tuition as a non-UK or EU student. She receives 421 euros monthly bursary/allowance which is given based on financial need. The only thing she pays for is her accommodation at Queen’s University Elms BT2. She chose not to get any student loan and decided to work as a part-time Agency Carer at First Choice Recruitment.

When UK leaves the EU, governments across the UK have confirmed that current EU students and those starting a course in 2019/20 (the first cycle post-Brexit) will continue to be eligible for home fee status and for financial support as per existing rules. 

In other words, as an EU national, students will be treated in the same way as regards fees and grants as UK students, even if the course concludes after the UK’s exit from the EU. 

Leigh’s free tuition will not change for the remaining years of her nursing degree and there will be no immediate change to her right to work, which means she can still continue to work part-time to pay for her accommodation. She will still have access to student loans and will continue to receive the student bursary on her last year plus a "year out" monetary reward of 80 euros when she finishes her degree. 

Also, as an EU national who started living in the UK before the Brexit deadline, Leigh will be granted ‘pre-settled status’ and then to 'settled status' when she reaches the 5-year residency requirement. 

This will enable her to live, work and study in the UK for as long as she likes. Her permanent residence status will be converted into the new settled status free of charge, subject only to verification of identity, a criminality and security check and proof of ongoing residence. As an Irish (ROI) Citizen living in Belfast, Leigh is also entitled to public welfare benefits in Northern Ireland.

Republic of Ireland Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. and Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. have announced their decision to continue support for prospective higher education students planning to study in the UK and for UK nationals wishing to attend colleges in ROI. 

Despite this, it is an unsettling time for Leigh because even if she is guaranteed a job in Northern Ireland after she graduates from Queen’s University Belfast, she is concerned as to whether she can work in her home country if she decides to go back to Donegal and be closer to her family. She, like many others, still has a lot of questions about what happens now and what Brexit will entail. 


Belfast Balikbayan Box forwarders Manolito Mullet and Jay Abdullah share different views on impending border checks, extra customs requirements and business permits as they trade across the border.
If the UK exits the EU, businesses that cross the border from the UK to the Republic of Ireland and vice versa may require border checks, additional documentation, insurance, permits, tariffs and other new trading formalities. UK businesses may have to apply new customs, excise and VAT procedures to goods traded with the EU. 

Businesses can currently move goods freely between EU countries. For customs, this means that businesses trading with the rest of the EU do not have to make any customs import or export declarations, and their trade with the EU is not subject to import duty. Certain goods are subject to excise duty. This is tax charged on the production and importation of alcohol, tobacco and oils. These goods are currently free to move between the UK and the rest of the EU with the excise duty suspended.

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, there will be immediate changes to procedures that apply to businesses trading with the EU.

It would mean that the free circulation and movement of goods between the UK and EU would end. The UK government’s aim will be to keep VAT procedures as close as possible to what they are now. This will provide continuity and certainty for businesses. 

However, there will be some specific changes to the VAT rules and procedures that apply to transactions between the UK and EU countries. Despite all the possible changes, the UK intends to establish an independent trade remedies system by the time the UK exits the EU.

Mullet and Abdullah are two Filipino entrepreneurs in Belfast that run cargo services who have different reactions and views as about potential changes that may affect their businesses after Brexit. LBC Express and MGM Cargo Ltd. are 2 box forwarder companies that operate on a planned schedule for commercial vehicle, airline and sea shipments from Northern Ireland (NI) and Republic of Ireland to the Philippines. 

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Mullet is the owner of MGM Cargo, a cargo agent and freight forwarder of balikbayan boxes from Filipino migrant workers, shipping from Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland to the Philippines. 

Mullet moved from Muntinlupa in the Philippines to Northern Ireland in 2002 with his children Vinze Emanuelle and Carl Manuel, to join his wife Maria Luisa who was hired in 2001 as a nurse at a nursing home. 

Maria Luisa was part of the second wave of nurses that arrived in the UK and Republic of Ireland. After working for 14 years at the nursing home, she moved to Antrim Area Hospital where she works as a staff nurse up to this day. They have been living in Newtownabbey, a suburb in Belfast, Antrim, since they arrived. 

Mullet initially worked as a Warehouse Operative Worker at a retail company for three months and then formed a corporation in 2010 with fellow Filipinos. 

When the partnership fell though, he set up MGM Cargo in Belfast in March 2011. He currently crosses the border six times a month to serve his customers in Sligo, Donegal and Dublin. He avails free movement with no border checks between the NI and the ROI and abides by simple rules on customs declarations and trade licenses. 

With Brexit approaching, he has asked for business advice and guidance from his accountant, other traders, and customers but has received vague and even conflicting answers. In reality, the potential effects of Brexit on over 700 cross-border businesses are still unclear. 

For Mullet, the disadvantage of having new border trade requirements is having to charge higher than his competitors in the Republic of Ireland, which will result in losing majority of his customers. Sixty percent of his clientele is in the Republic of Ireland and the rest are in Northern Ireland. But while Brexit is still uncertain, and with the confusing views that he gets from different sources, he has decided not to worry about Brexit for now and just focus on his scheduled shipments instead.

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Abdullah, on the other hand, has prepared himself for Brexit. He is the authorized contractor of LBC Express, a box courier business catering to overseas Filipinos in Northern Ireland. 

In 2003, Abdullah moved from Cotabato City in southern Philippines to Belfast to join his wife Indirah who was hired directly by the National Health Service (NHS) as a nurse the previous year. 

Abdullah started as a Kitchen Assistant at a nursing home then he ran a generic box freight forwarder business a few years after. In 2012, he was able to secure the LBC franchise in Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland (ROI) and has been running the business since. Abdullah, Indirah, and their five children live in Belfast.

For 6 years, Abdullah drove from Belfast to Dublin once a month and handled Ireland’s capital and its surrounding areas where most Filipinos live. All he had to do when crossing the border was pay toll and road charges and he returned to his office in Belfast easily on the same day. 

In anticipation of Brexit, he has agreed with the LBC Head Office to assign another agent in Ireland in order to avoid any cross-border problems. He gave up his territory in the Republic of Ireland and is now focusing on Northern Ireland. 

For Abdullah, new changes and additional fees on the border may deter and restrict businesses from operating across the border. He is not in favor of Brexit. If it were not for Brexit, he would not have lost his big client base in ROI which he had built for several years. 

Currency volatility, transition arrangements, customs/logistics and potential delays in investment activity continue to be key concerns to business owners when the UK leaves the EU. 

In the meantime, Abdullah and Mullet are enjoying the free movement of goods between two jurisdictions with manageable trading requirements that may potentially change in the next few weeks.

As the departure date looms, ongoing doubt and debate on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations will continue to cause anxiety. It is important to give clarity and some semblance of order, especially to cross-border commuters.