There are around 140,000 of us. We may not have a vote, but we have a voice. It’s about time we use it.
When we speak of EU nationals in the UK, we normally mean ‘the three million’ – who often are adults with families, jobs and children in the country. These people are highly organised and mobilised. As they should be: they are fighting for their lives, almost literally.
In comparison, the 140,000-or-so EU nationals studying in the UK may feel like spectators. We’ve come here for just a few years and most of us spend the bulk of our time on campus, mainly interacting with other students. Even pro-European Brits have occasionally told me I have no right to speak. Meanwhile, many other EU students have chosen to keep their head low and hope for the mess to go away by itself, or for Brexit to drag out until they have graduated and left the country.
It’s everyone’s business
Yet we’re deceiving ourselves if we think Brexit doesn’t affect us. One of pro-Europeans’ key talking points is the blessing of free movement. And indeed, many EU students have plans to stay in the UK after graduation and maybe, in time, become one of those who have a British spouse and half-British children. Welcome to the three million.
But what if you plan to be out of the country already before the flow of new likes on your graduation pictures has subsided? Well, ask yourself this: Of the millions of people who might in the future use their right to live and work in the UK, could one possibly be you – a person who’s lived in the country, has friends there and masters the language? Even if it’s not on your mind right now, the odds don’t seem that long.
Or maybe you’d at least like to ensure your younger siblings and other compatriots have the same opportunities as you did. You had the joy of smiling smugly when your American classmates complained about their tuition fees. Your student debt is slightly less daunting than theirs thanks to the UK’s membership of the EU. It’s much nicer to go back to your high school to give a talk about studying in the UK if the path still exists for other people to follow.
EU students see the forest for the trees
More than three years of Brexiting has driven the UK a bit crazy. The increasingly thick Brexit lexicon is alienating people from the debate. After all, no sane person wants to spend all day raving about what the right honourable member for Willynillyshire said about alternative arrangements for the backstop this time.
Perspectives from EU nationals can be a breath of fresh air. Knowing another country for comparison can enable us see the bigger picture.
Countless conversations are constantly taking place on the streets, on local newspapers and the cesspools of the Internet. In these discussions, we can make an invaluable contribution. To name a couple of topics, we can give insight into where the UK is similar to other European countries, where it’s different, and how we can improve the UK’s relationship with the rest of Europe. Why not join a street stall with your local pro-EU group and give it a go?
Speaking with people is also the best way to defuse hostility towards EU nationals living in the UK. People are afraid of what they don’t know. To help fix this, you don’t even need to wear an activist T-shirt – talking with people in your local community is enough.
Having a nice conversation with the lady living down the street – about anything, not just Brexit – might not immediately change her worldview, but it might make her image of EU nationals living in the UK a bit more positive. By doing that, you’re already making a difference. You’re helping to keep your own options open for your future, you’re fostering understanding between peoples – and you’ll probably have a smile on your face after you’ve spoken with your neighbour.