Or: On being a “bargaining chip” by Andrea Blendl
Last September, I took one of the biggest steps in my life. I moved to Orkney from Germany and started a funded PhD here. The entire process to apply for funding for the project had taken almost a year before I finally moved, and my funding had been approved just before the Brexit referendum.
Of course, for me as an EU citizen the majority for Leave came as a little shock but I decided to come here nevertheless. I asked if I needed to do anything to guarantee my right to stay but was told that, since Article 50 had not been triggered yet, nothing would change.
Little did I know I was about to become a “bargaining chip “…
But Positives First:
I am having a fantastic time in Orkney. I simply love it, the landscapes, the people, the culture, and of course my research. Orcadians, both natives and fellow incomers, quickly gave me the feeling that, indeed, this was my new home and that I was very welcome in this community. The whole Brexit matter seemed a very distant issue that would not really impact on us on this beautiful and somewhat remote island.
With some irritation, I noted the continuous refusal of the British government to guarantee any right to stay to EU citizens unless the EU guaranteed UK expats the same rights (by the way, why are they expats and I am an immigrant?). I first read the word “bargaining chip” some months ago but I did not identify as one at all. After all, my research was contributing to British academia, I was funded by the Scottish Government, so certainly there would not be any issues.
However, over time, with reports of more and more EU citizens being rejected for permanent residence applications, I started to worry a bit. On February 20th, I participated in “One Day Without Us“, a day of protest for the right to stay for all EU citizens currently in the UK. The comment I most often heard from fellow Orcadians was “Don’t be silly, you certainly won’t be deported”.
I hoped they were right.
This morning, things escalated. One of the UK’s foremost immigration lawyers went through all the changes in regulations the Home Office introduced during February and his briefing came to the conclusion that, due to a little publicised requirement for Comprehensive Sickness Insurance for all those who are not paying National Insurance, I currently have no right of residence in the UK.
My PhD studentship is not taxable, and nobody ever told me about this CSI requirement. Following new Home Office regulations, I could be “removed from this country at any day“, and if I leave and re-enter the UK, I would be considered to commit a criminal offence against the Immigration Act. I have not found any solution how to secure a right to stay here yet.
It is a scary feeling. I want to be treated like a human being, not a bargaining chip.
Andrea Blendl is a German EU National currently studying for her PhD in Orkney