The exit of United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU) – the such called “Brexit” – has highlighted concerns regarding the political and economic situation of the EU immigrants currently living in that country. These concerns relate to the rights, social benefits and work permission EU residents actually enjoy in the UK – and which can now be lost. However, the non-EU immigrants in the UK have always struggled with these issues, although it seems to never have been a problem for UK’s society, academia, policy makers and media.
It’s all about immigration
It is clear one of the main reasons for the Brexit was the British disagreement with the EU migration policy. The crescent inflow of immigrants into the UK was one of the main points of debate, even before the Brexit discussion started. Eventually disguising to contain economic and political reasons, the immigration issue certainly played a key role on the referendum which decided for UK’s exit from the European Union, in 2016.
The questions about the future situation of the EU citizens in the UK after the Brexit arose almost immediately. Presently, the EU establishes quite a homogeneous system of rights and social benefits across its country members, besides a free mobility scheme for its citizens from one country to another. Nevertheless, with the British decision of exiting the EU, this system is now on the cross in the UK: the possible consequences that the Brexit may generate on EU foreigners living in the UK are not a consensus among politicians, lawyers and specialists.
The sheer possibility that EU immigrants may eventually lose particularly their permission to work in the UK has already aroused instances of prejudice against them. Cases of job positions being denied to European but non-UK passport holders, and even rental contracts being differently offered to EU immigrants and national citizens, have been massively reported by the media. All these generated an even larger wave of worry and indignation regarding the present situation of the EU individuals currently living in the UK.
Old struggles, new narratives
A wave of worry and indignation, however, which does not exist when only the non-EU immigrants are the victims of that same lack of rights, social benefits and work permission – besides the job denials and the differentiated rental contracts according to their passports, has recently arised. Non-EU immigrants have been dealing with these struggles on a daily basis.
Many are the stories of non-EU immigrants living and working in the UK under very severe situations. The fear of deportation forces them into the informal labor market, working under precarious conditions, since they are not able to get a permission to work in the country. Without rights and benefits, these immigrants fall into economic and social insecurity, living in constant stress and anxiety for not being able to plan their future.
Similarly, many are the stories of non-EU immigrants in the UK who are also forced to leave the country, abandoning their lives and loved ones after years studying, working and paying taxes. A mix of visa restrictions and bureaucracy, which generates enormous difficulties for these people to settle and work, are the main reasons for their leave. This situation, commonly reported by EU immigrants after the Brexit started, has already been experienced by non-EU immigrants, who frequently have their lives totally transformed by the British immigration policy.
Beyond the Brexit debate
Apparently, what the Brexit is doing is simply to partially extend to the EU immigrants what UK has already done with the non-EU ones: those feelings of anxiety and stress, the risks of having to leave the UK at any moment, the discrimination in labor market because of one’s country of origin – all of which have been experienced by the non-EU immigrants constantly.
Obviously, the situation of the EU immigrants in the UK is serious and must be debated. But the debate must go further. Regarding immigration in the UK, the Brexit is not a problem itself; it only reflects the British immigration policy which now, after a long time, is finally targeting the EU citizens. This conversation must cover all individuals, independently of their passports or countries of origin. Otherwise, it will continue being quite a hypocritical one – inexistent when non-EU are the victims.