Updated: Mar 31
I moved permanently to the UK in September 2018. At the time, I didn’t think anything about my stay could ever change. People had been talking about Brexit for a while, and the verdict was in since June 2016, but it didn’t deter me from deciding to attend the University of Southampton. For some reason, I just wasn’t bothered by the thought of the UK leaving the European Union. It was when I started having a glimpse of it from inside the Country, that I realised I had to research what was going on.
The first thing I wanted to know was: how many people voted to leave the EU? It seems an unimportant question, but in the long run it gives you a sense of the people’s opinion. 51.9% of the voters decided to leave. The difference between the two parties is quite small, but England’s outcome carried most of the final weight, due to the higher population compared to the other three countries. Turns out, the leavers outnumbered those who wanted to remain. The result didn’t really stand out to me in the beginning. I knew people must have had their reasons to vote like they did, but then I began to ask around.
My next question was then: why? The answer may surprise you, especially if you’ve ever been to the UK. I heard a staggering number of people telling me that the reason why they voted to leave were immigrants from the European Union. I know this may not be the case for everyone – many are looking at the financial aspect – but it was and still is one of the most cited reasons. I visited the UK two times before I came to Southampton and I’ve seen how many Europeans are around. In cafes, restaurants, tourism in general, and – as I had the chance to experience – working in Higher Education, including Universities. Without counting those who work for private companies and are not seen directly when you visit. But let’s talk numbers.
According to the Parliament’s website, 6 million EU nationals were living in the UK in 2018, out of 9.3 million immigrants in total, representing 14% of the entire population. For the purpose of this blog, let’s just focus on Europeans. I think that any reasonable person would think that 6 million people are contributing to a certain extent to the economy of the Country. Citing again The Migration Observatory based at the University of Oxford, in 2016/2017 alone EEA immigrants contributed to the economy at £4.4 billion, while non-EEA and UK born – those who are of foreign descent - were detracting £9 billion and £41.4 billion. Moreover, it was estimated that recent immigration in the country (2000-2011) has had a positive impact, resulting in less net expenses that the Government incurs to maintain EEA compared to non-EEA immigrants. These numbers vary depending on the year and on the general wellbeing of the Country, but they give a clear picture of the contribution that EU citizens are giving to the UK.
The third question was: how will this impact my life? Approaching the 31stof October 2019, I applied for the Pre-Settled status, a document that allows me to work and study in the UK – in my case until 2024 – without a Visa. It’s just a temporary solution, because in 2024 I will have to apply for the Settled status, which would give me the right to stay indefinitely, if I can prove to the Government that I’ve been living in the UK for at least 6 months a year for 5 years. It’s achievable. However, an increasing number of EU citizens’ application is being turned down, granting only the Pre-Settled status, which carries less rights. The decision can be appealed, but the process is getting longer by the day, as more and more people try to sort their status out. Moreover, my status is only visible online, and employers and landlords have increasingly refused applications for jobs or housing from those who don’t have a physical proof of their condition here, which is not given to EU applicants.
Is This All?
No, this is not all. Some time ago, on the 31st of January, my University issued a statement where they were encouraging EU students to remain and declaring that we will always be welcome in Southampton. They also admitted that there has been an increase in hate crimes and, in general, in discrimination, and that the University does not support these behaviours. I appreciate their pledge, but I wish they could keep their commitment towards us in the future.
As of now, EU students pay £9,250 per year, like UK students. In contrast, international students pay an average fee of £21,000. The Government has ensured that this will not change until 2020/2021. We still have no idea of what will happen next. I hope they will treat us like today, but the reality is that our condition is changing without us knowing it. And when the Prime Minister of the Country you live in says that, and I cite, “EU nationals have treated the UK like their own country for too long”, the whole situation takes a whole different perspective.
I’ve been feeling different for a while now. Like I don’t belong here as much as before. It doesn’t have to be a big act of discrimination, but it starts from people that look at you repeatedly on the bus or on the streets whenever you speak in another language. When you’re waiting to be served and they attend English students first, even when they arrived after you. When they talk slowly, assuming you don’t understand them, and stop as soon as you tell them you’re attending Neuroscience at one of the top ranked Universities in the world. When they are friendly to everybody else and don’t bother replying to your “hello”. It may sound silly, but it’s happening, especially with older people. I am not too worried about them, but unfortunately, I had first-hand experience with people my age as well. And this saddens me. These people you attend lectures with, or with whom you share a flat, who have no problem saying that they don’t want you there. It’s moving quickly and you would notice it too if you lived here.
I try to be involved in this as much as I can be, especially for what concerns my academic future. In the meantime, I’ve started considering other options, including getting my degree here and move back to the EU. The rules are changing fast and things are being said by each party. The newest addition to the anti-EU immigrants proposals was what I call the “70 points rule”. Let me know if you want me to talk about it, because I think it’s worth discussing. In any case, I hope I gave you a brief idea of the relevant background and how it feels from the inside. I am going to follow this closely, hoping that they will all come to senses and realise how precious the work, but most of all the lives of 6 million people are.