UK nationals, remember EU citizens like me who don’t have the right to vote today
I’ve lived here for most of my life. But without British citizenship, I cannot take part in an election that may well make my life harder
EU nationals living in Britain tread a strange hinterland. We do not feel too far removed from British culture due to their mainland European origins. However, with Brexit getting messier and messier, many have felt their position in society grow increasingly uncertain. We are near-enough absent both in the media and from conversations between politicians.
The most obvious difficulties that arise are ones of uncertainty about whether we will be able to continue living our lives as before. Currently, the EU allows any EU national to make a home in any EU country without the formality of a visa. This is that “freedom of movement” you hear so much about. Whatever other reasons there were for people to vote to leave the EU, the vehemently anti-immigration rhetoric of the 2016 campaign was clear. Imagine making somewhere your home for years, only to be told that you are unwelcome. As it has been for years for non-EU immigrants, this is the life of EU Citizens in the UK in 2019.
That’s why I’m proud to have been working with For our Future’s Sake – a youth and student-led movement, campaigning for a Final Say parliament in this election – and talking to my fellow EU nationals about how they have felt since 2016. The result, a short film titled “Vote for Us”, was created with the awareness the EU citizens are too often spoken about and rarely with.
The film quickly makes clear how difficult it is for EU Citizens to feel secure in the UK right now. The process of applying for “settled status” (introduced in 30th March 2019) under the new government scheme has been an unnecessarily complicated and humiliating one.
The government website advises you to download an app which essentially verifies your identity: it scans your passport and takes a picture. However, this app is only available on Android phones. The other option is to send your documents by post. But particularly in the current political climate, who wants to be without their passport for weeks, possibly months? The Home Office is not famous for returning documents quickly. The third option is to go to an organisation offering to scan your documents for you, however they often charge a fee.
Once you manage to navigate your way through all of these hurdles, then comes the reward – which is probably not the one that you were hoping for. If you have lived in the UK for longer than five years, you should be entitled to settled status. If you have lived in the UK for less, the way the system is designed is that it automatically grants pre-settled status. If you think you deserve settled status, you have to fight for it. This is what happened to me, even though I have lived in England for 15 years, and have finished the majority of my education here.
I had to upload five years’ worth of documentation, proving my consistent residency in the UK. The website was difficult to navigate, clearly not being designed to make the process as painless as possible. It was plagued with error messages which force you to refresh the page, and, failing that, log out and suffer again through the long login process which requires you to give your passport number each time.
The number of times, as an EU national, I've been met with a shock when I said that I do not possess citizenship – despite living in England since I was nine – is almost countless. It is not as if I do not want dual citizenship. Although I am Polish, my home and immediate family have been in England since 2004. I pay taxes. I feel more like a citizen of the UK than Poland, and yet I do not have full rights – because I can’t afford them.
As of 18 April 2018, it costs £1,330 for adults and £1,012 for anyone under 18 to achieve British citizenship through naturalisation. This is a price that has been rising over the years. I, and many other EU nationals, simply do not have that much spare money laying about. Imagine the financial strain for an entire family living in the UK that wishes to stay here permanently. Even those who are born in England but whose parents do not possess British citizenship do not have the right to citizenship without a fee.
Despite living here for most of my life, not possessing British citizenship means I cannot vote in general elections or any referendum. My family, as tax-paying residents who contribute to the society, do not have a say in any of the major decisions of the government. With every general election, I feel beyond frustrated that I cannot vote on the future of the country I call home, and have a say in the decisions that will affect me on a personal level; just because I do not have over £1,000.
Amid the mess of Brexit, the conversation around EU nationals has been almost non-existent. Those who cannot afford the steep fee become voiceless, made to feel like lodgers who would love to buy their own house but cannot afford to.
It is very hard watching the country that you consider your home go through such incredible political turmoil when you know it will affect you and your family, and feel like your opinion isn’t counted, let alone even asked for.
Maria Kalinowska is an activist for For our Future's Sake, and a Polish national