Brexit and Regrexit
I have been an immigrant my entire life. I don’t look stereotypically immigrant-ish. I’m about as pasty as one can be, but for the record immigrants (or for imperialist, racist reasons, the term used for white immigrants: ex-pats) can look like anyone, because they really, truly can BE anyone.
I am an immigrant. I was born in the US, and shortly thereafter moved to Liberia. My first memories are of England, and so a huge part of my identity is tied in with that place. I’ve also lived in Ecuador and enjoyed extended stays in Australia and India. But England has always been my home. It’s the US that has always felt foreign to me, like a bridesmaids dress – back in the day when they all wore the same dress, regardless of preference, individual body shape, etc. I’m told that this is my dress, even though it doesn’t really fit – it chafes. I am a traveler. Ex-pat. Immigrant.
All told, I’ve lived in England for 4 years, both as a child and as an adult. Up until recently, up until the Brexit vote, I couldn’t wait to be there again. I’m currently on a break from my PhD studies in London, and for the first time in the year since I left, I’m glad I’m not there, and I find that to be utterly devastating.
I love England. It’s always been home to me, and through all my travels I’ve always wanted to go back home. But now I know, and I know with certainty, that once I open my mouth, I won’t be welcome.
I know a lot of other immigrants in England. I know people who have lived in England for 20 years, have raised their children there, are working in specialized fields, advancing medicine, and bringing thousands and thousands of pounds from their home countries and freely dumping that money into the UK economy.
And I was the same. I began my PhD studies at SOAS, University of London. The members of my 12-person cohort are Bulgarian, Canadian, Italian, Japanese, Russian, English, and more. I delighted in hearing 10 different languages I didn’t understand during the course of my day. I loved learning about research interests that stretched from Senegal to Japan. My professors were English, Australian, German, and Russian. I easily found Punjabi speakers to participate in beta-tests of my research. I was in the most glorious pocket of heaven, representatives of the world at my fingertips.
But outside the ivory tower, resentment was stewing. I personally felt the rumblings of anti-immigration leanings while I was there, thanks to former Home Secretary, and newly-minted Prime Minister Theresa May, who has worked to make it more and more difficult for non-EU students to study and live in UK, despite the millions of pounds we spend at our universities, our living accommodations, and their nearby coffee shops. Our money was welcome, but we were not. My tuition fees were 4X higher than EU residents, but unlike them, I was strictly limited in how much I could work, while they were not.
I couldn’t stay. The pound was so strong that I couldn’t afford to stay. So I’m on leave. The funny thing is, I could probably afford to go back now. But I don’t know if I would feel safe. Because hate crimes and harassment against immigrants, or those perceived to be foreign, have surged in the weeks following the Brexit vote, even while many people turn to Google to understand what exactly will happen now.
And what has happened? The European Union is a long-standing relationship, one purpose of which is to create important trade relationships. This was set up after Europe was ripped apart twice in the early 20th century by savage wars, one idea being that countries that are economically bound will be more motivated to maintain peace. And it’s worked. The EU policies that allowed the mature generation to travel and work where they please within the Union are now being yanked away from the young. These young Brits are being denied freedom of movement by those who simply won’t have to live as long with the ramifications of this vote. We all laughed when it was reported that searches for “What is the EU?” peaked the day after the vote, but really it’s a tragedy. It’s a tragedy that so many were influenced by propaganda.
But the real tragedies are unfolding still. The pound has plummeted, along with it the rocking of global markets, wiping out wealth and stability. Conservative leaders immediately backtracked on major promises of the Brexit, which widely influenced the outcome. David Cameron stepped down as Prime Minister, making way for Theresa May. In first days, she has abolished the climate change department and assigned Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. She has doubled down on her anti-immigration stances, including moving forward with deporting immigrants who make less that £35,000 per year (which will statistically impact more women than men), and also forcing recently graduated students to leave the country immediately upon completion of their studies. For reference, my own student visa was advertised as such: four years to complete my degree, with the option to renew for a fifth year in order to find a job or start a business. Why? British universities among the top in the world turning out highly qualified candidates for many fields. Of course it would benefit the country to keep highly-trained individuals in their own workforce. But no. She’ll go ahead and take the millions of pounds foreign students bring into the country, and then deport us.
Britain is becoming a hostile place to be. I know and care about so many people there whose futures are now deeply uncertain. I know Brexit may feel like old news for many, but for me, for dozens of my dear friends, for thousands for families, it’s a terrifying time. I didn’t post this article earlier because I didn’t want my response to be reactionary; I wanted to allow for some time for answers, for things to settle. But they haven’t. There’s so much uncertainty, and it fills me with so much sorrow.