My 350 on Brexit: On Friday morning, I woke up to be an immigrant

"My name is Laura and I am one among the millions of Europeans living in the UK."

Laura Stahnke
1 July 2016

My name is Laura and I am one among the millions of Europeans living in the UK.

I am 28, and I am as European as one can get: Italian mother and Danish father, I was born in Italy but I have lived most of my adult life far from home: I moved to France as I was 16; then, thanks to the Erasmus project financed by the EU, I spent the third year of my undergraduate degree in Spain. I then decided to take my masters in the UK. The EU financed two of the projects I worked on since I graduated, respectively in India and Haiti. Now I work in the human rights sector in London. 

As a young, privileged millennial I always took my freedom of movement for granted: I could always choose to move across continents without having to be preoccupied about visas or restriction. 

In the two years I spent in London I always felt at home: within this city I can find elements of all the countries I had the chance to live in, and much more. It can hardly pass a day without me hearing people speaking Italian, French or Spanish on the streets. If I feel nostalgic about Italian cusine, it takes less than 10 minutes walking from home to get to a good pizzeria. And if I want to explore new parts of the world, it takes few more minutes to get food, music and vibes from virtually anywhere. 

Yet on Friday morning, I woke up to be an immigrant. It took a night for me to loose my privilege of freedom of movement. Nothing is going to change for the next two years, but nobody knows what will happen next. I am finding out what uncertainty means.

I can no longer think of a long-term plan in the UK as I used to, since I don’t know if it will be possible for me to remain here. Extra EU migrants now have to earn more than 35k a year to be able to stay in this country: will this apply to us as well? Will the number of Europeans allowed to live here be capped with quotas? Will my employer have to sponsor me? These are just some among the many questions that I have been asking myself in the past two days.  

Many of my European friends in London are raising similar questions. Who bought a house is even more preoccupied. Those who have spent five years or more in the UK are starting to look at what they need to do to get the British citizenship. Some of us feel betrayed, and many are thinking to leave the UK. While our future here is uncertain, we can still relocate to one of the other 27 countries members of the EU.  

As I was cycling to work on Friday morning I started looking at London already feeling nostalgic for what this city was and what it meant for millions of us: a place where it is hard to feel foreigner, a new home. After the results of the referendum were announced, all of this started to change and crumble. My love&hate relationship with London now is characterized by a longing feeling for what the city was just a few days ago.

Yesterday night I went out for dinner with a few friends. We went to an Italian restaurant in central London, and we toasted to all the Europeans living in the UK, and to all the Brits who have always supported us and made us feel at home. 

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