European migrants living in Britain have spoken out after Tory prime minister Theresa May announced plans to end freedom of movement.
May’s plans—announced in a speech on leaving the European Union (EU) last week—would make it harder for EU migrants to live and work in Britain.
Now some EU migrants have told Socialist Worker what they fear could happen if May gets her way—and how we can defend free movement.
Ulrike Schmidt from Walthamstow, east London, is originally from Germany but has been living in Britain for 28 years. She said the threats to end free movement made her feel “deeply distressed and anxious”.
She said, “I’ve been teaching here for 23 years and engaged in the community and in the multicultural society I believed in.
“Now they raise all these plans like they only want EU migrants who earn a certain amount. Well I only earn £18,000 a year.
“Or we have to get private health insurance. I can’t get private health insurance—just forget it. Or things like employers should have to pay £1,000 to have a migrant worker.”
She added, “All this makes me feel deeply distressed and anxious. I could go back to Germany, but I’m not employable there anymore. All the qualifications I have are from here.”
Ulrike explained that the effect of ending free movement would be harder on some EU migrants—such as Roma people—than on others.
She said, “People from the Roma communities can’t just go back. The Roma are escaping unfair discrimination.
“In other European countries Roma children are regularly put in schools for children with learning difficulties. When they get to Britain they make spectacular progress in British schools.”
She added that there needed to be “mass demonstrations” to defend freedom of movement.
“I’m going to help organise a bloc of migrants on the Stand Up To Racism demonstration on Saturday 18 March—EU workers here to stay.”
Andrei Dudau, a Romanian food worker from Poole in Dorset is also worried about what ending freedom of movement could mean. He’s also deeply angry—and after 14 years in Britain is considering leaving.
He said, “A couple of years ago I would wonder about whether I needed citizenship. I always thought I’d spend the money on something else instead.
“A colleague at work told me I’ll always be an immigrant, even if I’ve got citizenship. So I’ll put two fingers up and go. There are 27 other states I can go to.
“The only thing keeping me here in the first place is the fact that I have a steady job. But as soon as the company says, we have to let you go—that will be the time to leave. I don’t want to be a second class citizen here.”
‘On a work visa you’re basically a slave’
One form of scapegoating, used to justify ending freedom of movement, says that migrants are a drain on public services.
A similar argument is that workers from the EU “undercut” British-born workers. Unfortunately some on the left and in the trade unions have accepted parts of this argument.
But as London hotel worker Rafel Sanchis, originally from País Valencia, explained, many industries depend on migrant workers. He said, “There’s a lot of EU migrants in my sector.
“We always talk about how difficult it would be to run our sector without EU migrants. It’s the same in health, transport and cleaning.”
And Andre said, “I’ve been here for 14 years and paying taxes. Where did I contribute more—Romania or here? How do I put a strain on the economy?”
Andrei had been a rep in the Unite union, but said he had stopped because of other trade unionists’ support for ending freedom of movement.
He said, “How can you call yourself a trade unionist or an internationalist when you’re saying you want people to come on a work permit? Do you know what a work permit implies?
“On a work visa you’re basically a slave to the company because the visa depends on your employment. So you can’t just leave the job if your rights are broken. You have to do what the company tells you to or they’ll put you back on the plane.
“I’ve seen cases like that. That’s what the work permit means.”
The way to stop bosses driving down wages and conditions is to unite to fight them
Rafel said, “You have to say, everyone who wants to come here and participate is welcome. Everyone—from one continent to another—are the people who are working hard.
“We have to take part in any campaign. Join a union and support your colleagues. Support refugees and people from other unions fighting to make ends meet.”
Don’t be divided by Tory racism after Brexit
Like many EU migrants, Ulrike and Andrei wanted a Remain result in the EU referendum—and say they have seen a rise in racism since the vote.
Ulrike said, “There’s hostility directed towards migrants. I’ve been fighting racism all my life. Now it hits me deeply inside and I find it very difficult.
“There’s been a lot of Islamophobia and a lot of racist abuse.”
And Andre said, “It’s the whole political climate. I’ve visited Christchurch a few times for holidays over the past few years and never had any issues.
“But last year I felt that because I was speaking a foreign language with my partner everyone was looking at me.”
But Andre also blames the right wing media and Theresa May for scapegoating migrants. “I’ve got so tired of Theresa May,” he said.
“She will always use whatever means she can to shift the blame. Now it’s immigrants.
We’re the scapegoats for everything that’s bad”.
Rafel also blamed May for encouraging racism.
He said, “She’s also encouraging the racists in Britain. That’s a bit scary.
“As a migrant in hospitality you can see some of the customers treat you differently. And there’s been the rise in racist attacks.
“Not everyone who voted to Leave is a racist. But the way the politicians talk encourages some people.”