As the politicians battle it out over the final details of the Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU, it’s important to remember the human impact of all of these decisions.
I caught up with Tom Lesniara – originally from Poland but now living in London – to see how he was feeling about where we’re at in Brexit Britain.
You relocated from Poland to London after the Brexit vote had been decided. Did that outcome influence your decision to move to London at all?
Definitely! I remember when my mum called me a few days after the results had been announced – “The UK just left the European Union…” she said. No one in Europe really knew what was going on. The results scared me so much, I quit my job the day after. I was like – Oh, I really need to move now.
That was in August 2016. Over two years later, people are still moving, and both sides – Britain and the EU – keep on playing in that sandbox.
One of the challenges about the extended negotiation period of Brexit has been the lack of clarity about immigration and the status of European citizens living in the UK. How has that lack of clarity and uncertainty made you feel?
I think every EU citizen living in Britain felt a little bit silly. In 2017, I worked in a hotel in South Bank, and there were many other EU immigrants working there as well. Brexit was the number one topic at lunch and cigarette break for months. There were people literally thinking EU immigrants are going to get a notice letter and then get deported if they’d not been in the UK for five years. Around the same time, the hotel’s head office sent us all an email saying that they would ‘support us no matter what…’
Now, I see how over-exaggerated all of that behaviour was.
Are you planning to stay in the UK?
Yes, definitely. I can’t picture myself living in Poland. I’m planning to graduate here and build my life in this country, just like I always wanted to.
The information that’s currently available seems a little confusing, but it looks like there will be different processes depending on whether you’ve lived in the UK for more than five years or less than five years. You’ll have been in the UK for less than five years? This means that you’ll be applying for ‘pre-settled’ status? Is that something you’ll be doing?
I’ve been living in the UK for over two years now. The UK Government came up with this pre-settled status scheme for EU citizens who have lived here for less than five years, but the whole thing is still in the beta phase. They only let selected people register, to test stuff out, I think. I’m subscribed to Home Office updates, so I get an email from Theresa May every time something happens.
Do you think that young people from Europe will be keen to come to the UK to live and work post-Brexit?
There’s always been people loving the UK and the iconic status of it. Young people wanting to study here or just live that UK life, I guess.
It’s not a secret that English is the only second language for most Europeans. If you want to earn money for a car or a wedding, you can only choose between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Most young people just move here for money. I don’t think so many people would make an effort to enter the UK when they can move to Ireland, stay for few months, and buy that car or a holiday.
If someone was thinking of moving to the UK, what advice or guidance would you give them?
I moved out with no plan and ended up asking people for a bed on their couch for way too long. Have a plan. Apply for a National Insurance Number as soon as you arrive, because you can’t get a job without it. Save money in your own country for a deposit towards your flat or apartment. The rates will knock you down. Don’t buy a hot dog in Harrods – it costs 20 pounds and it’s not even that good.
Tom Lesniara is the author of Cheap Eastern European Boys – a chronicle of his experience of moving to London.