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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

Immigrants and Expats in a Brexiting UK

28 March 2017
Meiling DellaGrotte talks to migrants about what it means to be an immigrant or an expat in a Brexiting UK

Whether they are called ‘immigrants’ or ‘expats’, migrants are at the forefront of the current political climate, where literal and metaphorical walls are being built to distinguish ‘us’ from ‘them’. For many living abroad in the UK, the prospect of staying in the country they have established as home is beginning to look extremely tenuous. International students are facing the end of university, and obtaining a work visa has become harder than finding a unicorn. Brexit is happening, and Thatcher 2.0 is willing to sacrifice all sense of morality and the economy to maintain an over-glorified sense of empire and country.

A recent video by The Guardian about Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante – the largest ‘expat’ community in Spain – featured one British man proudly claiming that ‘Expats are British. A foreigner is probably someone from another country living in Britain. They become foreigners. The British are not foreigners, wherever they go’. Meanwhile a Spanish man working at a bar in the community recalled how, when he first started working, ‘A few people laughed at me because my English wasn’t good. I felt this was unfair, in my own country, to have to speak in another language and being laughed at about it’.

There is a seemingly defining distinction between what it means to be an ‘immigrant’ versus an ‘expat’, and Brexit has only served to highlight it. Given that Theresa May intends on invoking Article 50 on Wednesday, 29 March, I talked to migrants (both European and otherwise) about what it means to be an ‘immigrant’ or an ‘expat’, if Brexit has changed their view of the UK and whether or not they intend on staying in the country.


Emelda, 21 

I’m from Singapore, and this is my third year in the UK. I don’t quite see it as home just because I’m here alone without family but it’s definitely become a place that I’m very comfortable in as a result of the familiarity that I’ve built up with the city over the past few years. I think it would become more of a second home if I start working here and have a place of my own.

I see immigrants as people who migrate to a place in hopes of converting citizenship (or already have converted citizenship). Expats are simply foreigners residing in a place because their studies/jobs/travels have taken them there. Therefor I am an expat – I don’t intend to convert citizenship so I’m here in the UK temporarily, may it be to study or work in the future.

Honestly, Brexit hasn’t altered my view of the UK in a bad way at all. I have never felt there’s anything wrong with the UK wanting a greater sense of nationalism—I don’t believe this country will ever be shut off from the rest of the world just because it’s always been and will continue to be a giant melting pot. Multicultural cities like London don’t just change overnight, and I doubt that it will.

There’s nothing wrong with locals wanting to control the influx of people coming into their country—I don’t think the UK is saying that they won’t allow immigrants or expats to come in, just that it is now on their terms and not the other way around. Because truth is, there are many people who take advantage of the leniency and acceptance of countries like the UK and the US.

As for staying in the UK, it’s an open book for me right now—If I manage to get a good job opportunity here after graduation then yes. Otherwise I will be returning home.



Teodora, 21

I have a Serbian passport. However, I have lived here for almost 19 years – and while I do see the UK as home, I see Serbia as home too.

I had to Google what an expat even was! I think the only significant difference is that immigrants are perhaps wanting to settle permanently, whereas expats are more associated with staying temporarily or on business or something? I feel like the word immigrant is thrown around a lot more than expat – I find that really interesting actually when the two have very similar meanings. I guess immigrant sounds more menacing somehow. I do definitely identify more as an immigrant than expat. I originally moved here because of the NATO bombings and the Kosovo War so me and my family were identified as asylum seekers.

Brexit has made me feel a lot more unwelcome. Since Brexit, I got rejected from a job because the employer said my visa wasn’t valid and accused me of being here illegally. (I won’t name the retailer that did this, actually I will, it was Tiger.) I’ve lived here almost all my life and have a permanent residency but they just rejected me a day before signing the contract without me even being able to do something about it. It might have just been a dodgy person at HR but to be honest that made me feel awful and kind of put everything into perspective. I feel almost embarrassed and nervous about not having a British passport now, which is crazy.

In other respects, I’ve come to appreciate being in London a lot more because I know the majority of people didn’t want this to happen and a lot of goodness has come out of people who have opposed it, and I appreciate and am even more in love with every immigrant and refugee that I meet!!

I intend on staying in the UK as long as Gary Barlow gets off the TV, that I’m happy here and as long as it’s safe for immigrants to be here.



Anonymous, 20+ 

I’m from Thailand but I’ve lived in the UK for the past four years. It’s become home, but more because of the people I know (and maybe the fact that almost everyone around me seem as lonely and foreign inside as the next person).

 Immigrants are anyone who are not white/Caucasian. Expats are the white people who colonised other nations and took what didn’t belong to them in the past. Now, they are called ‘expats’ instead of immigrants because of colonisation back then. Where I came from, white tourists are treated with more privilege because of their skin colour – because they’re ‘expats’. I identify more as an immigrant.

Brexit changed how my view of the UK in that the people here are much more right-wing than I thought, even though they may seem open-minded to you, they still voted for Brexit. Otherwise it hasn’t changed my view about the Tories wanting to put a cap on immigration as it has always been so hard to get a UK visa – Brexit just helps to emphasise the truth even more. I do not intend on trying to stay.



Małgorzata, 21


I’m from Poland, but I moved to the UK for university almost three years ago. It’s hard for me to even start considering the UK as home given the uncertainty of the future. However, Poland doesn’t feel like home anymore because I have changed so much, whereas my friends and family have stayed pretty much the same.

For me, this distinction between immigrants and expats is ridiculous. Media decided that white, Western Europeans are expats, whereas the rest of us are immigrants, which has become such a dirty word. Both of those terms have the same meaning – a person residing outside of their country of origin – yet one of the acquired a sense of superiority. I identify as an immigrant.

I was overwhelmed by the Brexit result. Mostly because I knew there is a lot of unfounded hate towards immigrants, but I didn’t expect it to actually tip the scale. I no longer feel welcome here.

If I try to stay in the UK depends on what the conditions of remaining will be. I’m not willing to spend money to try to acquire British citizenship, especially as having the Polish one gives me access to all the benefits that come with being a member of the European Union.



Severija, 23


I’m from Lithuania. However, I lived in the UK for seven years as a child and I’ve been living here for the past two and a half years for university.

I don’t believe there’s an actual difference between immigrants and expats – I think it is really an issue of class and race. The people who like to call themselves (and are regarded as) expats are defined by the fact that they come from the global North, or at least have the economic resources to move across boarders easily. Whereas someone coming from the global South or from a poorer country is usually considered an immigrant. I believe that the real reason that people prefer to be called ‘expats’ is that they want to be differentiated from immigrants, as the word itself has become something dirty. It’s ridiculous really – a migrant is a migrant. All that means is that they’ve left one place and moved to another.

I identify as an immigrant. I think it’s somewhat conceited and, to a degree, bigoted to call yourself an expat. What you’re really saying is – I’m not like them. Like who? Poor people who come to work shitty jobs to survive? Or like those people who come to steal benefits etc.? I remember chatting to a British friend from university about receiving finance for my studies on the basis of being an “EEA migrant worker”. She knew that I wasn’t British and that I had a job, however she seemed almost shocked and said “Oh, you’re a migrant worker? You’re not what I imagine as a migrant worker.” In effect, she was saying “But you’re not one of those people.”

Brexit felt very personal actually. Living in London and going to university here I don’t meet very many people who voted to leave so I feel like I can’t properly gage the current climate accurately. I didn’t really think that they would vote to leave but I was very upset and disappointed. I suppose I was surprised to find that the UK is more xenophobic than I had previously imagined.

I don’t know whether to stay in the UK or move somewhere else. Even if I stayed here, who knows what living in London might be like in a few years’ time or if I’d still be able to find a job and live here comfortably. However, if I were to do my Master’s elsewhere, it might be even more difficult to come back afterwards. I don’t really know where else in Europe I would have as many opportunities as in London… America isn’t exactly looking very appealing right now either.



Aisheshek, 20

I’ve lived in the UK for about 2.5 years for university and though it is not my home, at one point I did imagine it as a possible home. That was before Brexit of course.

I don’t think there is much difference between immigrants and expats– I have noticed in my experience that people who call themselves expats intend on leaving at one point or another, whereas people who see themselves as immigrants tend to stay in the country. There is also the question of race of course. People from the country of residence tend to call white people or people from “western” places as expats and people of colour as immigrants.

I’ve always thought of myself as an immigrant – I’m not sure why. Perhaps because I expect others to view me this way? Expat always seemed too glamorous for my title.

Definitely before Brexit I saw the UK as a welcoming country especially because I live in London and I see the diversity of ethnicities. I also thought the UK could be my home after a few years. However, Brexit has made me feel very foreign and unwanted. I don’t want to stay in a place that doesn’t want me, I know my value.

I intend on trying to stay in the UK only for a few years before Brexit effects take place. Until then I would like to use my alumni resources from the university I am soon to graduate and try to get as much work experience as I can. Otherwise I don’t think it’s worth it to stay in the UK. I believe the UK is doomed and that major companies will move out of the UK and into Mainland Europe. I also don’t want to stay as a foreigner in a country that doesn’t want me.