The diary of a bargaining chip

 

By Eva Duda-Mikulin

Today, we witness a historical moment, the triggering of Article 50. As an EU national living in the UK who also does research on women migrants in the UK, this is a particularly important day as the UK government is yet to ensure my right to live and work in the country, like that of many other EU nationals, is protected. Today, the UK Prime Minister Theresa May is set to trigger Article 50, which will mark the start of formal negotiations regarding the British exit from the European Union (EU). 60 years after the Treaty of Rome created the European Economic Community (EEC), or ‘Common Market’ which then was transformed into the EU, the UK is seemingly ‘ready’ to leave. The UK government appears to want to strike a deal whereby they retain access to the single market without the perceived burden of free movement of labour. The future of those caught in between (‘the labour’) remains uncertain. Europhobes seem pleased, Eurosceptics skeptical, while Europhiles joke that on top of moving clocks forward by one hour last Sunday, we will move back in time by 60 years today. Now, back to the ‘bargaining chips’.

Research has shown that migrants from the EU to the United Kingdom (UK) are largely economic migrants (Currie, 2008); they predominantly arrive to work and thus do not put an undue strain on local resources; that what they contribute outweighs what they claim (Dustman & Frattini, 2013). My past research highlights that women migrants arrive in the UK for various reasons, be it to work, to save up or to study (Duda-Mikulin, 2015, 2014). Many of them subsequently return once their original goals are met (e.g. save up enough; gain a degree). What about those however, who have made the UK their home and have careers and/or started families, bought houses? Due to the fact that, even today, women tend to undertake the majority of care and housework (Boyle, 2013), it may be more difficult for them to sustain long-term employment. For this very reason, women EU migrants are in a disadvantaged position with regards to regulating their stay in the UK post-Brexit vote, should they wish to do that.

The Brexit vote came as a shock to many and there has been much speculation as to its potential impacts (Duda-Mikulin, 2016), although nothing can be said for certain as the official negotiations have not started. Now, after the Brexit vote, the Guardian has reported that nationals from the EU apply for a permanent residence (PR) status in the hope that this will act as protective measures post-Brexit. Similarly, there has been a rise in Britons applying for Irish citizenship (the Guardian). The process of obtaining PR has undergone many changes in the recent months (Free Movement) but remains lengthy with the requirement to produce a number of documents from the 5-year qualifying period (e.g. P60s/payslips/bills for every year). Therefore, it may be more difficult for women migrants to produce these necessary documents.

Linked to the above is the heightened sense of insecurity, anxiety and stress for all those who may be affected, predominantly EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU (e.g. some 1 million British expats* on the Spanish Costas; Ahmed, 2015). Additionally, there has been an unprecedented rise in hate crime towards migrants recorded across the country since the Brexit vote (Civitas, 2016). All the major media: the BBC; Channel 4; Channel 4 Dispatches; Sky News; the Guardian; the Independent; as well as Manchester Evening News; have documented this rise in the aftermath of the EU referendum. This is the reason behind migration activists starting campaigns such as The 3 Million with the aim to fight for and protect the rights of migrants.

 

So this is how my personal experience links to my own research; and this is how I have inadvertently, due to Brexit, become my own living-lab. It does not feel good as I am conscious of possible exposure and subsequently becoming a target every step of the way. Indeed, my anxiety regarding post-Brexit Europe put a halt on pursuing other migration-related research interests. I feel I have no choice but to officially regulate my stay by paying £65 and hoping to be approved as a permanent resident despite having already acquired this status by exercising my treaty rights. Then, having first learnt about life in the UK from a book for ‘new residents’, I will have to pay £1236 and then, I may be lucky enough to be invited to swear allegiance to the Queen which will inevitably make me British. I cannot wait to become a full-fledged additional angry voter.

*Note the use of terminology and how UK residents in the EU are portrayed not as ‘migrants’ but ‘expats’.

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