But will we want to stay?
On the day of the EU referendum, a British Remain campaigner told me: ‘I’m very glad you’re here.’ I know she meant well, but her words felt exclusionary as well as inclusive – I may be welcome, but I’m still foreign.
In recent years there have been increasing restrictions on who can move or settle here from outside the EU – from eliminating the post-study work visa to requiring an annual income of at least £35,000. And the person who oversaw these restrictions as home secretary is now our prime minister.
During the referendum campaign, none of the Remain leaders spoke out in favour of immigration. After the result, even some Labour MPs warned that the party must ‘recognise concerns about immigration’, rather than try to change the way Britons view it. Police saw an increase in reported hate crimes. In the London borough where I live, which overwhelmingly voted Remain, graffiti appeared in a park saying ‘Go Home, Fuck EU.’ (It was painted over after a couple of days.)
A dual Canadian-Polish national, I have lived in the UK for six years, and many of the people I’m close to here are (non-British) Europeans. I’ve had several discussions with other EU nationals about whether or not we may leave, even if we can legally stay long-term, and I recently sent out a survey which around 70 people responded too. Many of us feel less welcome here, and some of us feel less safe. Most of us were surprised by the referendum result, and feel uncertain about whether or not we’ll be able to stay. Even if we are, a lot of us have considered moving out of the UK since the referendum – to other countries in Europe but also to Australia, North America, Asia and the Middle East. (I realise that part of what we're feeling, as a relatively privileged group of people, are surprise and fear that we may lose some of our privileges.)
Here are some of the things people said:
‘The insecurity is awful. The prospect of the economy tanking and giving rise to even more social issues is awful.’
‘The UK is a temporary landing, so if the governments decides to push me out, I’d happily find another place to call home.’
‘It is the first time in the 14 years I have been here that I feel personally targeted (although I did not experience any incidents) and unwanted. I felt anger, sadness and frustration after hearing the results. I feel the voters for Leave did not know what they were really voting for. They were misled by the politicians. The EU has many faults, and it's not a perfect system, but … when you have a broken arm you do not cut it off.’
‘As an Irish citizen, I feel like British friends think we are somehow “different” from other EU nationals. As Ireland is its own country, independent of the UK, it’s quite sad … that British people take us as closer to them than the rest of the EU. That said, Irish people could vote in the referendum, so we do have a “different” status in the UK. This situation makes me feel very conflicted.’
‘The UK would be lucky to be a home to well-educated EU citizens like me, but if I feel unwelcome here, uncertain about my future and think that I may be able to get a more rewarding job elsewhere, it is the UK’s loss not mine if I move.’
‘The results have made me feel strange when interacting with people who were eligible to vote. Most of them feel the need to point out … that they voted to remain and for those who don’t, I wonder whether they might be happy with the result and whether they see me as a second class citizen that shouldn’t have any rights here. I witnessed UK flags put up by residents the day after the results in Cambridge, which surprised me.’
‘I cried the morning I woke up to see the result. I love the UK. I love the culture. I love the people. My son was born here. I have worked and paid my taxes in this country from the day I arrived. I would not have been able to be here had it not been for the EU, just like my British friends in Copenhagen would not be able to live there had it not been for the EU. A lot of art, films, local shops, cinemas, monuments would not exist were it not for the EU. I am not saying it is a perfect system, far from it! But it is something we must solve together. It hurts my heart that the great UK would vote to leave. I do feel less welcome here knowing that so many people don’t want me here. Hundreds of thousands of people died for us to be able to have peace in Europe. We must take power over the peace in Europe, and we can only obtain that power together.’