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6 September 2017

Stop telling EU nationals in the UK that they’ll be fine after Brexit

I know you mean well, but please stop.

By Pauline Bock

I know you mean well. Maybe we’re at the pub and someone’s started talking politics, or you are just enquiring about my career or travels plans in the coming year, and I’ve let slip “But now, with Brexit, I’m not so sure.”

So you answer, with a smile or maybe a friendly shrug: “Oh, because you’re from the EU? Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”

It’s nice of you. Sincerely, thanks – but please stop telling me this. You don’t know if it’s true (and it’s probably not).

Even in the best scenario, EU nationals will lose rights. That’s just a fact, to which I am used now: if Britain leaves the single market, which looks more likely by the day, we will lose our right to live and work in the UK.

I won’t be able to use my national ID card to visit my family – I’d have to use my passport each time. The Home Office may ask to register my fingerprints and I’ll generally have to spend a lot more time at customs, facing potential remarks about where I’m from or why I live here in the process (Facebook forums for EU nationals filled up with similar stories during the summer holiday).

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So yeah, that’s annoying, but Brits will suffer similar troubles when travelling to the continent, right? However, they may not face a myriad of small existential questions back in Britain (Could it become more difficult to sign a lease as an EU citizen? What about opening a bank account? Applying for credit? Buying a house?). They won’t have to pay to apply for a “settled status” to retain rights they used to have, without guarantee to be granted it. They won’t be stranded on their island without the possibility to leave for more than two years, after which the precious settled status will be lost. I won’t be “fine” after Brexit, because even if the UK doesn’t kick me out, in many insidious ways, I’ll be a second-class citizen.

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And that’s just living – but working will be harder, too. As The Guardian revealed in leaked proposals from the Home Office on Tuesday, newcomers could have to apply for work visas up to two years for “low-skilled workers” and to only three to five years for “high-skilled occupations”, such as doctors and nurses. Even if the “settled status” avoids current European residents such requirements, employers would be asked by the Home Office to “give preference in the job market to resident workers”, which sounds much more like a “British first” policy than a “let’s be nice to the Europeans who are already here” one. Not to mention quotas for migrants in certain industries, which, if implemented, will make our lives (and those of actual employers) harder, too. If I’m sacked, or made redundant, or just looking for a new job, I may very well not be fine.

Some EU citizens have lived in the UK for decades – they have children who go to school here, they own houses and businesses, but have family back home. Brexit Britain may split them up indefinitely: they would not be able to go back to their home country for extended periods of time (after which they’d lose their right to remain or “settled status”), but according to the leaked documents, they would also only be allowed to bring their “direct family members” or “durable partners” to the UK if they earn a minimum of £18,600 a year. I can think of many people I know for whom that may be an issue. Divorce, marriage (to an EU national met abroad, or to a British citizen with different rights), pensions will become a struggle as a result of such a policy. We will not be fine.

And as the leaked documents show, those who would want to join us in the pit of despair that has become the life of EU nationals in the UK would face even harsher conditions. The message they’re being sent is clear: they’re not welcome.

I may be here already, and therefore considered “lucky” or “safe”. That doesn’t mean I am welcome. It does not mean I will be fine.