My feelings and travails around “Settled Status”: the anxiety-inducing process that I need to undertake to ensure I can remain in the UK after Brexit.
“Britain is arguably the only place I’ve ever felt at home, I have actively chosen to make it my home – and now I feel like the author of this article. We don’t have a voice, but the outcome of tomorrow’s vote will and has already affected me and many other EU citizens living here. I would urge anyone who can vote to go and do so; no matter what side of the fence you are on. When you do vote, please think of us as a community, as a whole and how the outcome of tomorrow’s vote will shape the future of ALL those who live here and contribute to this country’s economy, culture and diversity – not just the ones who can vote tomorrow.”That was the message I posted on social media prior to the UK’s referendum on whether to leave the EU. I shared an article written by an EU citizen who said they no longer felt welcome in the UK.
On the 24th June 2016, what seemed unimaginable to me happened. The UK voted to leave the EU. I did not share the arrogance of some of my UK-born friends who said that there was no doubt that “remain” would win, but I still felt sad and betrayed when I heard the result.
I had so many questions. What would happen to all of the wonderful cultural sharing between the UK and the rest of Europe? All of the projects spanning across the continent and that included the UK, such as Erasmus? Or the funding coming across the channel for academic projects, among a host of other things? What would happen to our communities, and would the next generation be losing out on the opportunities that those who came before them had?
There was a distinct shift in how I viewed my place in the world. The UK had always felt such a welcoming place. When people found out I was a foreigner, they were interested in my life experiences, not pointing out my differences in a negative way. After the vote, I had to question my future here, coming to no productive solutions. Back in 2016, I would have become eligible to apply for citizenship later that year and had planned to apply; because of the outcome of the vote, I never went through with it. Many people I have discussed this with have been confused as they thought it would have pushed me into applying as soon as possible, when in fact my feelings were that I was now unsure I wanted to be a citizen of the UK.
It has taken over two years, and the “settled status” debate has allowed me to consider this again. I am still debating what to do about applying for citizenship – if I stay here longer term I would like to have the right to vote in all elections (not just local elections which is currently the case) and I think this would push me to apply. There is however a large financial commitment of over £1000 to apply for this and for the privilege of sitting the UK Citizenship test.
Brexit and the discussions around it have strings attached. Those strings strike an emotional chord, and for many EU citizens the practical and emotional reasons attached have caused them to leave. For those who have not left we come now to “Settled Status”.
And breathe. This is how I feel every time someone starts talking about the process that I will need to undertake to ensure that I can remain in the UK after Brexit. The anxiety is especially acute when they do not know I am one of the people impacted.
Whilst I have heard tales of discrimination from friends and acquaintances, I have read about many more of them on online forums. I have been fortunate enough not to experience this, owing this mostly to the fact that it is difficult to identify me as a foreigner. I am white and have easily taken on the local accent; most are shocked when I explain that I am not actually from the UK, do not have citizenship and have not lived here for the majority of my life.
The only time people usually notice it is when I reveal I have no knowledge of a particular TV show, a sweet or chocolate bar that was ubiquitous during my British friends’ childhood. When people realise I do not match their expectation of being British, it sparks discussions which I usually enjoy. This is because I start the conversation on the front foot and can use their misunderstanding of who I am to change their perspective (although it does not always work).
Although I understand that there is no good way of implementing a change like Brexit and I don’t necessarily have a better or realistic alternative which I can put forward, the fact remains that it feels strange to have to apply to stay somewhere where I have already made my home.
The facts? Those who are here on an EU passport will need to apply for settled status or pre-settled status prior to the end of the UK’s transition out of the EU, which is two years after the exit date.
Settled and pre-settled status are essentially the same: they both allow individuals to remain in the UK; pre-settled status is granted to someone if they have less than the standard five years of residence required for settled status.
Settled status is different to citizenship. If granted, settled status allows a person to stay in the UK beyond the transition period after Brexit. It is free to apply (for now) and is meant to be a simple process that is achievable on a smartphone. There has been a trial phase, initially within higher education and the NHS, and then opened up to the wider public earlier this year.
There are so many rumours and myths surrounding settled status and going through all of them can be more confusing and upsetting than helpful. One of the most contested points – over which I have had many a discussion with others in my position – is whether or not someone is indeed eligible for settled status, and many people are simply not well informed or have been confused by unclear facts.
I have had to return to the facts of my own situation when I feel worried and take myself off forums or mute some social media groups because of the effect they have had on me.
Whilst I do have reservations, they are not specific to me. My main reservation about settled status is for those more vulnerable members of the community – the elderly, those with disabilities and those in financial difficulty among other groups. I am worried that these individuals will slip through the net or will not have sufficient resources and understanding to gain the necessary proof or even complete the initial application. The government has allocated funds to support these groups and says that they will not be left in the dark as to what to do and how to do it, but they have not specified how they will do this.
My broader reservations about Brexit and what might or might not happen have been what has simultaneously held me back and pushed me towards applying for settled status during the trial period.
There has been a lot of pressure coming from all directions. Family members living elsewhere, worried about what might happen to me. Online forums of those applying for settled status, with some reeling off a lengthy list of issues giving evidence, as well as the overriding question of whether to jump ship and do it as quickly as possible regardless of what will happen or not to bother.
One friend of mine asked what I had to lose since this is now a free process, and if I could get confirmation of settled status I would feel at ease. This friend had a good point but I think I am ultimately too emotionally tied up and not ready to face the fact I have had to apply to be considered ‘settled’ in a country I have been living in for over seven years and have no plans to leave.
So, what next for me? I will probably apply for settled status at some point, although I am unsure as to when this might be. I am looking forward to sharing my experience of it when I do apply. Until then, I will continue to try to be kind, even to those whose opinions differ, and most importantly to myself.
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Gabriella is a French national working in the the third sector, with expertise in the prison system and how it interacts with the community.