Feeling rejected is no fun – especially when it’s by a whole country. E&M’s Nicoletta Enria expresses what many have felt and keep feeling as the UK’s exit from the EU develops. 

“Immigration is out of control” was the Brexit battle-cry for those wishing for the UK to exit the European Union. As an Italian immigrant who grew up in the UK, I couldn’t help but read these headlines and feel that I was being not-so-gently reminded where the door was. In fact, after Brexit almost every fellow EU and non-EU migrant I spoke to confirmed that Brexit felt like the UK was breaking up with them. The heartbreak and rejection of no longer being able to call this country our home.

To this day, immigration remains a buzzword that elicits much anxiety among the British electorate – as shown by the migration ‘crisis’ prompted by the few channel crossings over the Christmas holidays. How to mediate immigration anxieties, and regain this supposed ‘control’ in a post-Brexit world remains a hot topic: one that is proving difficult for any politician to assuage.  As EU and non-EU migrants in the UK watch this collective national meltdown – united in an anxiety for their future – what effects is this toxic anti-immigration debate already having on immigration into the UK and what does this tell us about immigration into post-Brexit Britain?

EU and non-EU immigrants fear for their futures and are already beginning to leave on their own accord.

Whilst politicians are fretting to figure out a way to reduce immigration into the UK whilst not losing the immigrant labour on which the UK and its economy so vitally relies on, EU and non-EU immigrants fear for their futures and are already beginning to leave on their own accord. Whether a country is pro or against immigration actually plays a major role in attracting migrants from all across the socio-political spectrum. In fact, a study by Constantin Reinprecht and Tom Robinson found that the immigration politics of a country play a very significant role in the decision-making process of high-skilled migrants choosing to migrate.

Whilst asylum seekers and economic migrants, whether highly skilled or not, don’t necessarily have the same luxurious decision-making process, this is still believed to be a deterrent factor in some countries.

Protester in London | Photo: Alisdare Hickson (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

Proof of this is found in the countless tales of people seeking international protection fleeing Italy in any way possible: the country is known for its lax labour protections for migrants, often pushing people to work for mafia organisations. For EU migrants in particular, spoiled by Freedom of Movement that for now has allowed young Europeans to hop from one opportunity to the other across the EU, the news of the EU Settlement Scheme, compulsory after December 2020, not only added some extra black mirror-esque holiday merriment, but was also a sharp wake-up call that the UK may no longer be a welcoming hotspot for internships and career advancement.

Likely to become even worse | Photo: Ungry Young Man (Flickr); License: CC BY 2.0

So, this toxic anti-immigration debate is proving to be a deterrent factor, isn’t that what politicians wanted to achieve anyways – less migration? Well, the UK relies heavily on immigrant labour. From the NHS to the financial City, the UK built its wealth on the backs of immigrant labour – both low and high skilled. This reliance is prompting significant fears on how some services will continue to function as EU and non-EU migrants escape and a steady stream may not be there to replace them. Now the UK is closing its eyes to the reality of foreign nationals’ role as an economic backbone to the nation. Sajid Javid claiming that migrants will have to be earning £30,000+ to be able to settle in the UK post-Brexit proves the extent to which the UK remains completely oblivious. Javid has since retracted this plan, but the mere statement shows the UK’s bird-box approach to post-Brexit immigration regulation.

Indeed, Brexit is turning out to be quite a bitter break-up. The UK was sick of us, and said it’d call it quits on dating, unless it was a millionaire type who showed up and would help them recover from the post-break up down time by buying consolation gifts. The UK needs to realise that this attitude won’t make it particularly appealing to the regular migrants who allow the UK to be a key global actor.

UK dearest, it’s not me that’s the problem – it’s you

I’ve been battling the UK to take me back, filing for applications for permanent residence and settled status, trying to apply for employment here that would allow me to regularise my migrant status with uninterrupted residence. But the more the UK pushes me away, the less motivated I feel to fight for it. Because, UK dearest, it’s not me that’s the problem – it’s you. Instead of trying to placate anti-immigrant sentiment by feeding fire to the flame with xenophobic restrictive policy, the UK should try to put in place long-term initiatives that will try to keep a migrant labour force to hold it over in the turbulent Brexit time.

So, much like a bitter break-up I’ll continue to love the UK and wish it would love me back in return – but I’m not going to wait around for it to get its shit together. 


Cover photo: David McKelvey (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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    Nicoletta Enria

    Former Editor

    Nicoletta Enria is Italian, originally from La Spezia, but grew up in London, Rome and Frankfurt. She graduated from University College London studying Language and Culture, with a focus on German and Arabic. She spent the past year working for the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization in Brussels and London. She read an MSc Global Europe: Culture and Conflict at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Follow her on twitter at @NicolettaEnria.

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