It’s been eight months since the Brexit vote and millions of EU citizens living in Britain remain concerned over their residency and working rights within the UK.
EU citizen, Joan Pons Laplana, a Spanish nurse working in the NHS, and a father of two young children, said that his life has radically altered ever since the Brexit referendum. He told Westminster World that he fears his family and his nursing profession could be ripped apart by a ‘hard Brexit’ deal.
The NHS employee and PFD (Personal, Fair, and Diverse NHS campaign) champion of 2014 said: “My future, as well as the future of my family, has been in constant limbo ever since Brexit. I fear that my family and I will end up living apart. We don’t know if we are able to remain in the UK or if we have to pay a fee or provide some sort of document to retain our UK citizenship.”
— #HelloMyNameIsJoan (@RoaringNurse) February 26, 2017
And, while the government doesn’t have a solution, or at least not yet, the idea of triggering Article 50 has created uncertainty and unrest amongst EU nationals in the UK.
One of the core principles of the European Union is that EU citizens should be able to travel freely between countries. However, what happens when a member state of the EU leaves the bloc?
Theresa May has said that with triggering Brexit negotiations next month will also come to the announcement that will end free movement for new EU migrants.
According to the latest report published by Office for National Statistics, there’s already a shift in net migration.
The rise of emigration and fall in immigration has resulted in a sharp drop in Britain’s net migration since 2014, according to the ONS report.
Quarterly migration figures of the ONS show that immigration fell by 23,000 to 596,000 in the 12 months to last September while emigration rose by 26,000 to 323,000.
The Migration Statistics Quarterly Report included three months of data following the EU Referendum. However, Nicola White, head of international migration statistics at the ONS, said in the report it was “too early” to say whether the referendum had any effects on long-term migration.
According to the Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey estimates for 2015, there are 3.3 million EU citizens in the UK.
The latest ONS report have also shown that although immigration from EU8 countries, including Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungry, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, has fallen, there has been a rise in immigration from EU2 countries, which are Romania and Poland. The EU2 group is responsible for 28% of total EU immigration
When you break down the figures, the majority of those affected are going to be people from Romania (229,000) and Poland (883,000), according to a Migration Watch report.
Whilst Theresa May has continually expressed the hope of securing the place of EU citizens in the UK, she has also stated that she is keen to guarantee the reciprocal rights of EU expats living elsewhere before she can guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.
According to the ONS analysis, around 900,000 UK citizens are long-term residents of other EU countries. Data showed Spain hosts the largest number of any single European country up to 308,805 UK citizens.
Mrs. May also insisted that taking control of immigration would be a top priority after Brexit, asserting that “reducing net migration to below 100,000 a year” remains the government’s target.
Concerns have resulted in hundreds of EU citizens and expats living in Britain to form a “One day Without Us” campaign to highlight the rights of EU citizens. On Monday, 20 February, protesters called for guarantees on their rights to remain in the country, as the House of Lords began discussing the Brexit bill that would allow Theresa May to trigger Article 50.
On the day of the campaign, a new report published by the New Economic Foundation revealed that if migrants stopped working for a day, Britain’s economy would take a £328 million hit – 4% of the country’s GDP.
Will Bret, the author of the report, said: “One Day Without Us demonstrates how the UK economy would grind to a halt without the participation of those born overseas.”
Among those, attending the event was Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington, Tom Brake, who praised EU citizens currently living in the UK for their vital contribution towards Britain industry sectors.
Mr. Brake said: “If you take the National Health Service, EU citizens make up ten per cent of the workforce. I was talking to my local college a couple of weeks ago, and they said they are getting most of their teaching staff from EU countries.”
Figures from the Office for National Statistics pointed out that almost 12% of the 2.1 million construction workers in the UK come from EU. The figures revealed that the majority of construction workers come from countries like Poland and Bulgaria.
As mentioned in a Guardian report, the financial crisis in 2008 led to a number of workers being cut from the construction workforce. This has made the industry more reliant on labour workers from the EU, since it takes a long time to nurture skilled construction workers.
Mr. Brake said that the recent vote for Britain to leave the EU would certainly deter foreign workers from coming to the UK, widening the skill gap even more especially when there is already a shortage of skilled construction workers in the sector.
“The construction sector relies very heavily on EU workers,” Mr. Brake said. “If our government wants to embark on a major house-building programme, it is very difficult to see how they are going to deliver that, if they are not at the same time going to allow a large number of EU citizens to come in and continue to build the homes that we need.”
For certain sectors like the construction sector, the impact would be even “greater” Mr. Brake explained. “The consequence would be one that would hit out economy hard, with a range of sectors from the public sector right through to high-tech. Those sectors are very heavily dependent on workers with skill from other EU countries. If those people were to decide that the UK was no longer an attractive destination for them, then that would create a major impact on our economy.”
Although Mr. Brake praised the importance of EU citizens to Britain economy he said an “honorable” deal must be settled for both EU citizens living in Britain and the status of British citizens living elsewhere in Europe.
Amid signs of optimism amongst Labour leaders, after securing a cross-party backing to amend the Article 50 bill, Britain’s EU workers at the lobbying event still worry that PM’s “hard Brexit” proposal will eventually lead to them being used a “bargain chips” as the UK seeks a new deal with the EU.
While it is currently unclear how Lord Bowness’ support will affect the final Brexit deal, the issue is set to be an important factor when the Lords next debate the EU bill, with the committee stage set to take place this week. If the article 50 bill is amended by the Lords, it will bounce back to the Commons next month, in a process known as parliamentary “ping pong.”
Speaking outside of parliament, EU national, Rolf Schwarz, a 55-year-old German web developer, living and working in Birmingham, explained that “no one knows” how negotiations will pan out after article 50 is triggered.
Schwarz said that a lot depends on what kind of deal the UK agrees on with the EU.
“Whether they will go in the favour of Britain and grant us the right to stay or whether they will say we didn’t like this or that aspect of the negotiations,” he said.
The post-Brexit bill notes that the government “wants to secure the status of EU citizens who are already living in the UK, and that of UK nationals in other Member States,” as early as they can.
The article also mentions that the government wishes to recognize the “contribution EU nationals have made to our economy and communities” and that those living here for “at least five years automatically have a permanent right to reside.”
An analysis report conducted by Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford found that up to 84% EU citizens residing in the UK are entitled to remain in the UK, based on when they entered the UK. As of early 2016, nearly two-thirds of people from EEA countries had arrived in the UK at least five years ago.
Now that the UK will remain a member of the bloc until 2019, it seems likely that those EU citizens who have been in this country for at least three years will become eligible by the time the UK leaves the EU. While the numbers of those eligible is still unclear, some EU citizens may find it difficult to prove their rights for permanent residency.
According to Migration Observatory, a third of applications for permanent residence are turned down or are either invalid. Meeting conditions like proving if certain EU nationals qualify for permanent residency will be the challenge for some EU citizens who have trouble assembling paperwork required to prove the duration of their stay, their employment, or their healthcare.
Schwarz expressed that the worst-case Brexit scenario would be one in which he would be forced to sever personal relationships and abandon life in Britain. “My worst concern is that they will send me back. I would have to start all over again and that would be quite difficult to do at the age of fifty-five.”