Anne-Laure Donskoy, one of the founders of the 3 million group, which fights for the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, has spoken to Euronews about the key issues that have been facing its members in the last six months.
Donskoy says EU nationals are now more self-conscious in public amid a spike in hate crime since the Brexit referendum in June.
Police said incidents of racial or religious abuse in England and Wales increased 41 percent in the month after the vote.
There were 3,886 such hate crime recorded in July 2015, rising to 5,468 in July of this year, according to the Home Office.
“I think it has turned ugly,” said Donskoy “I feel extremely sad about it because for me the UK was a really tolerant place to be, it’s made me feel very self conscious.
“I was on the Tube last week and I’m re-reading some French classics and I thought ‘Do I pull my book out of my bag or do I not? What’s going to happen if I do?’ I never used to feel so self-conscious.
“We know there’s stuff happening in the playground too where children are passing on their own parents’ hostility and xenophobia.
“You don’t hear it on the news, but people’s houses are being attacked too, that’s something I know from Bristol.”
The uncertainty around what will happen to UK-based, non-British EU nationals post-Brexit is causing anxiety among those affected, says Donskoy, who claims they are being used as ‘bargaining chips in a political game’.
A report by the think tank British Future revealed Brexit means the futures of 2.8 million UK-based EU nationals must be settled.
EU nationals have been trying to ease the concern sparked by June’s referendum by applying for permanent residency cards – a step on the road to getting British citizenship and a process described as a ‘complete nightmare’ by Donskoy.
“You have to provide a small mountain of documentation,” she said. “Most immigration lawyers say provide as much as you can which can be five years’ worth of bank statements, of utility bills, you name it, they want it.
“Not only that, but, on top of your five years, for every time you have been out of the country for more than 24 hours they want justification. In terms of have you kept your boarding pass, plane tickets? If you’ve been out of the country on work, a letter from your employer to justify to your leaving the country.”
There were 21,208 applications for permanent residency cards from July to September this year, a 239 percent increase for the same period in 2015.
Just under a third are being rejected, according to official figures, and Donskoy says students and the self-sufficient are falling through the net.
People are being rejected – or realising it’s futile to apply – because they did not take out comprehensive sickness insurance, something Donskoy says is a little publicised requirement for the above category of workers.
There are also claims the system is struggling to cope with the applications. The British Future report estimates at the 2015 rate of progress it would take 150 years to process the applications of all EU nationals currently in the UK.
Donskoy says the Brexit referendum has also put a strain on friendships and families.
“We do hear of people being ostracised by colleagues at work,” Donskoy told Euronews. “Some people have got friends who voted to leave and so are no longer friends. There are big rifts in families and some friendships have ended.”
“The Brexit vote was like a death in the family for my friends and family,” said Englishman Michael Brett, based in London. “Then came anger: ‘unfriending’ people on Facebook; dropping people socially; boycotting the cheap Weatherspoons pub in the High Street [the pub chain’s chairman, Tim Martin reportedly gave more than 200,000 GBP to the campaign to leave the EU].
“My neighbour and I have fallen out completely,” the 61-year-old told Euronews. “ He is a UKIP type. I just thought of him as an eccentric as his views had no traction, no consequences, but now that they have, I don’t have much to do with him.
“I have also fallen out with another friend, older than I who is another UKIP type. I feel as an educated sort of man he should know better than to support Farage.
“Previously it was something in the background that I ignored or chose not to notice but now it is wrecking the economy and our international status.”
The uncertainty around the status of non-British EU nationals has also opened the door to fears of job discrimination, added Donskoy.
“We do fear that some people will be discriminated against because they are EU citizens,” she said. “It’s about the employer asking will this person be allowed to stay, is it worth us investing our time and money and training and whatever if we don’t know whether he or she will be allowed to stay?”
However, there is little solid evidence of discrimination at this stage. Several posters on the 3 million group’s Facebook group say they have yet to experience anything untoward.
But others warn that two years or so down the line, when we get closer to Brexit happening, discrimination may become more prevalent.
Corporate law firm Addleshaw and Goddard said in one of its Brexit briefings: “Employers must not discriminate against job applicants by not offering them a job on the grounds of race (which covers nationality). A decision not to offer a post to a job applicant on the basis that they are an EU national, and their future right to work status is uncertain, could amount to race discrimination. Similarly, employers should avoid asking interview questions such as: ‘Have you any plans to go home?’. This could potentially amount to harassment.
“Employers should remember that unless, and until, there is a formal withdrawal from the EU, EU nationals retain the right to live and work in the UK.”