We Want You To Vote Remain Because We Can’t: Meet The International Students Worried About Brexit
Many EU and international students residing in the UK don’t get a vote in this Thursday’s EU referendum, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have an opinion.
If the UK were to vote to leave the outcome could have a huge impact on the lives of EU and international students and recent graduates. Speaking to 6 of them, I wanted to understand how they were feeling about the referendum.
With concerns about how Brexit would affect university funding and the cost of living in the UK – as well as job prospects – there were also worries that a vote to leave would signal a rise of xenophobic attitudes in the UK, making it a much more difficult place to live. Some have already experienced being told they cannot have a voice in this debate because they are not from the UK.
They can’t vote, but they want you to. And they want you to vote Remain.
Tamaki is a student at the University of York. She moved to the UK from Austin, Texas and understands how tough it is to be an international student here with visa requirements and high tuition fees – she worries that this could be the future for EU students in the UK post-Brexit.
“The exclusionary differences that are put on non-EU international students start to show after being here a while. I pay £14,000+ tuition fees and have to check in with a supervisor and confirm visas every term. I think some non-EU students even have to register with the police.
“My wanting to stay is largely about how Britain will have to shape itself after leaving the EU. Many of the people who will be reshaping the UK’s values or ideas would be the xenophobic Right wing who are currently leading the Leave campaign.
“A plus side of staying would definitely be the amount of money that goes into research funding for PhD students. If those benefits are taken away I think a lot of educational institutions will suffer from a loss of interest from international students, therefore losing revenue and intellectual development.
“In first year, after I commented about British politics and the education system, one of my flat mates said that what I said didn’t count because I wasn’t from here. I guess that’s impacted me a little bit, so I’m not campaigning much. It made me feel that there’s only so much that people will fully digest when I comment, as I’m an international student.”
Pauliina moved to the UK from Finland 6 years ago and is doing a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience at Bangor University. She worries, especially as an EU student, that no one seems to have answers as to how Brexit would affect her.
“I don’t think a vote to Leave would benefit the country as a whole, which obviously has a huge impact on me if I decide to find a job here after I finish my studies. The vote creates a lot of uncertainty. No one seems to know what would happen to EU nationals living in the UK now. Would I need a visa to stay? And would it make visiting family and friends abroad more difficult?
“I am also worried about the general atmosphere: the xenophobic attitudes against immigrants in the past couple of months is something I have never experienced on this level before.
“I am particularly concerned about the impact of a Leave vote on the quality of research in British universities. Research funding is largely dependent on the EU, so a vote to leave would have an extremely negative impact on universities – affecting British as well as EU and international students. I also believe that if tuition fees for EU nationals are raised, most European students would decide to study elsewhere.”
Marion is a PhD student from Germany, studying at King’s College London. She moved to the UK from the US three years ago due to the insecurity of living on a visa, but worries she could face the same difficulties post-Brexit.
“I genuinely think it’s better for Britain to stay, especially economically. I also think operating alone, as a small nation-state, will mean we have a much harder time competing in a global economy.
“It’s been shocking for me that those who want to leave the EU seem to not understand that this will directly affect the everyday lives of those of us who are EU citizens living alongside UK citizens without having to worry about work or study visas.
“Recently I was chatting to my friend, saying half-seriously, half-jokingly that I would take it very personally if someone I was friends with voted Brexit because I’d see that as a vote to kick me out of the country. Another person overheard and got very angry and butted into our conversation [saying] ‘That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think?!’
“I felt really awkward having to explain I didn’t think I was harsh – that I, as a queer person, also wouldn’t want to be friends with a homophobic person, so why should I be obliged to be friends with someone who wants to make my life in this country more difficult? They argued: ‘Perhaps your friend would’ve thought really hard about it and this was a choice they had to make because they genuinely believed it would be better for Britain to leave the EU.’ My response was ‘fine, but if they think it’s okay to have me and thousands like me as collateral damage – then clearly we’re not friends.’ ”
Emmanuela moved from Greece to Scotland 9 years ago. She is studying for a Master’s degree at the University of York. She worries about the xenophobia she might have to face following Brexit and feels the concerns of EU and international students are ignored by politicians.
“Even though I have family connections, have been to school and spent my teenage years here, and made long-lasting friendships here, I would consider leaving the country if Brexit happens.
“If the country decides to leave I have no idea how it will affect me because no one has been talking about this at all! We are completely ignored. I get it, we don’t have a vote and therefore no politician will address these issues, when they could be addressing other issues.
“I don’t want to live in a country full of people who don’t want me to be here. I could get British citizenship, but I still look and sound non-British. I think attitudes might change because people will feel it’s OK to be xenophobic since the main politicians campaigning to Leave are as well. Xenophobic and racist narratives (“they’re coming here to take our jobs/benefits”, “they’re everywhere”, “British culture is lost” etc) will dominate politics. We will become ‘the other’ much more than we have already!
“Plus, if the UK leaves the EU I expect unemployment will go up and there’ll be less jobs. So, why would I stay in a country with less job opportunities, less investment, more poverty, and more xenophobia to put up with?”
Omiros moved from Greece to Glasgow nearly 10 years ago and graduated from the University of Glasgow in 2014. He now freelances in Film and TV and worries about what Brexit could mean for students and graduates alike.
“The arguments for Brexit are shrouded in misconceptions about the benefits of our EU membership and the effects of immigration. It really saddens me to see people’s eschewed views of the EU online. Free movement, workers’ rights, continent-wide peace, trade, and the various EU-funded programmes that have helped the UK are not small matters. I wish more people would keep those in mind when voting this Thursday.
“I am concerned about how a Leave vote might affect my status in the UK. I can apply for permanent residency, but it does not equate to citizenship. How will legislation change and what criteria will I have to meet to be allowed to work in the UK? Applying for citizenship costs more money than I can currently afford.
“The biggest concern for me would be the cultural quarantine the UK would be putting itself into if it left the EU. Maybe it’s because I was raised with a view towards multiculturalism and had to learn foreign languages at a very young age, but I think if a country as important and powerful as the UK became disengaged from the cultural wealth of Europe, there would be an international impact.
“Knowing that I cannot go back to Greece for work means I would most likely seek new residence in France. Preferably, in the event of Brexit, Scotland would become independent and I would continue to reside in Glasgow. Next week, I am going back to my French books.”
Rituja moved to the UK from India a year ago and is currently studying journalism at the University of Westminster. She worries that Brexit will weaken the influence of European culture on the UK.
“As an international student who is just assimilating into British life, I have come to realise that my life in London involves a heavy influence from European culture in the form of my friends, food, travel and lifestyle. I cannot imagine my life without my friends who are from the EU, and the fact that Brexit means the UK might attract less European students disturbs me. Students from China, India and the USA also come to the UK with hopes of being part of Europe and not just the UK.
“I think leaving the EU seriously compromises my career prospects as a global citizen because a UK degree always meant, to me, being able to work and move freely within the EU. Brexit might mean that I can never take my backpacking trip across Europe, at least without being constantly reminded that I am not a part of it.
“Why are we drawing a boundary in a world that is becoming smaller by the hour? Britain is stronger in the EU.”
Rituja feels so strongly about the EU referendum that she created her own campaign video, urging viewers to vote Remain. In it she says, “we the millennials are trying to live in a world without any borders where people and ideas can travel freely.” Watch below.
The EU referendum takes place on Thursday, June 23. Take part in our poll below – how will you vote?
How will you vote in the EU referendum on Thursday?
- I'm not voting