After 47 years, the United Kingdom said goodbye to the European Union. The 1st of February 2020 will be remembered as “Brexit Day”. A “transition period” was opened to seal the dismissal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on this date, aimed at ratifying the many delicate issues that are still open.

Yet, many questions still remain for the UK citizens as well as for those of us still here in the EU. How will we enter the UK? What documents will we need? Will it still be easy to spend a weekend in London? Certain things will change with Brexit, of course – however, not starting on February 1st, 2020, but from January 2021, when the transition period will end. Going to England will not become a venture, it will only take a few more bureaucratic steps. Nevertheless, the repercussions that Britain’s choice will have on European and International politics and economics are undeniable. Despite the reassurances of the British ambassador in Italy, Jill Morris, that the United Kingdom will continue “to invest with all our friends and allies” and that “it will remain open to European talents”, the knots to be resolved remain manifold and time is running out. The risk of an exit without agreement is still a tangible risk. Nor can the European Union be said to be without fault.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO WORKERS?

The most important changes will affect less skilled workers, such as waiters, dishwashers, hotel employees, etc. Until 2025, European citizens will be able to continue entering the United Kingdom, even without already having an employment contract, but they will be able to stay for no more than a year, with a temporary visa which at the end of the 12 months cannot be extended or converted. These workers will therefore have to leave the country and, if they want to return, they will not be able to do so for another 12 months. Some derogations may only concern the agri-food sector, where there is a need for labor.

The situation is different for skilled workers (such as doctors and nurses, but also teachers), whom the United Kingdom needs most. For them, a maximum number is no longer foreseen (as was feared): European citizens will be considered on par with non-EU citizens. For them, the work visa will last 5 years, after which they will be able to apply for permanent residence and subsequently also for citizenship. The news concerns a total of over 3 million foreign citizens in the United Kingdom.

WHAT WILL CHANGE FOR STUDENTS?

Based on the agreement reached between London and Brussels, every European, including students, who arrived in Great Britain until 29 March 2019, will have the right to remain there indefinitely. So even a French student who started university in the UK in Autumn 2019 will have the same rights as in the past. European students will be able to enter the UK without making any special requests for 6 months after graduation, in order to look for a job. For doctoral students there will be a longer period (up to one year).

The British Academic system has always enjoyed a mix of favorable factors: the global reputation of its universities, the linguistic element, the significant but still affordable costs compared to the stellar ones of the US colleges. Today, Britain capitalizes on its academic appeal by hosting 444, 375 foreign university students (almost 135 thousand Europeans), for an estimated economic return of around £20 billion per year. The British government has always maintained an accommodating line on the university issue, trying to reassure rectors and students that the tear with the EU would not have obscured the attractiveness of the academic system and its – precious – relations with Europe. The early stages of the negotiations seemed to go in the hoped-for direction, securing the equation of Europeans to British citizens and saving, at least until 2020, participation in programs. An uncompromising break between London and Brussels would jeopardize the achievements taken for granted so far, not to mention the many dossiers still hovering over immigration policies, cooperation with EU institutions and access to finance given by Europe.

WHAT WILL CHANGE FOR TOURISTS?

For EU citizens, no visa will be required for 6 months, during which they will be able to enter and travel freely in the United Kingdom with a passport or identity card. In the future, however, it may be necessary to have a prior authorization based on the ESTA model required for the United States. If, on the other hand, the family members of British or European citizens come from third countries and therefore have different nationalities, they will be required immediately for their valid passport (for example, a Russian wife who wants to reunite with her Italian or British husband in London).

Uncertainty is the word most used in Britain for six months now. Companies are uncertain, so they don’t invest. Uncertain politicians, who don’t seem to know what fish to catch. Above all, the citizens of the European Union are uncertain, ignoring what their future will be in the country they have chosen as their second home. After Brexit the most common feeling is that we are no longer welcome. And many wonder if it is worth wasting time and money to face the very complicated bureaucratic process that leads to the citizenship of a country that seems to not want you anymore. 

In London, life seems to go on as always: the City employees start off in the office with a glass of coffee in hand, the most athletic are running at work; the garbage collectors clean the streets, you hear the usual shouting in a thousand languages and a thousand colors. On the streets, houses decorated with flags of England alternate with those with posters with the inscription “IN,” symbol of a division that has split the country almost halfway. But a sense of light and, in perfect British style, camouflaged agitation permeates the streets of the overseas metropolis. As if alarmed, or at least a little surprised, the people sitting at the tables seem to be intent on checking the latest news on their smartphones. Among them, the many Europeans who live, work and study in London and throughout the United Kingdom. More than two million EU citizens work in the UK, and the numbers continue to grow year on year. Mass expulsions have been ruled out and it has been ensured that EU citizens who already live and work in the country will not see their rights changed. Nevertheless, things could change for new arrivals, so the requirements for entering and living in the UK are likely to change. University fees could increase, which are now lower for EU citizens than non-EU citizens; free access to the health system would not be guaranteed, as is now the case in all EU countries; new arrivals may have to apply for a visa, with more or less stringent criteria, if they want to work in the country. Everything will depend on the outcome of the negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union. 

The concerns, however, are not just related to the possibility or not of being able to continue living in the UK. It is also the economic future of the country that alarms, in addition to the solidity of the entire European Union, under pressure on several fronts and in particular on the level of growing Euroscepticism. The 1st of February was the blackest day since the establishment of the European Union, and was a sadly decided result from a propaganda that has disappointed citizens, distancing them from the ideals and values of an unprecedented historical project. 

WHAT WILL CHANGE?

  • In order to access the country, European citizens from 2021 will need to have a biometric passport (for 2020 the identity card will still be accepted);
  • For the moment it is expected that moving, staying for long periods or working in the United Kingdom will require obtaining a visa (of 3 or 6 months), even if these agreements may change;
  • From the 1st of February payments in euro will no longer be accepted as it has been the case until now, but only pounds will be accepted;
  • For students there are no particular aggravations. In particular, the Erasmus program will be maintained, albeit with some changes still to be defined;
  • A border between Northern Ireland (belonging to Great Britain) and the Republic of Ireland (European) will be restored. The controls will be extended to TGV, a high-speed train that connects Paris to London through the Eurotunnel;
  • A customs office will be established, with related duties;
  • For legal immigration, workers must certify that they have a job with a salary of £30,000 or more per year.

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