Even post-Brexit, EU migrants are likely to stay in the UK
With the Brexit underway, EU migrants in the UK will soon have to make their own decisions about whether to leave or remain in the country under an alternative legal status to the one they previously held. In an environment of uncertainty, with several concrete and yet uncharted options, EU nationals are largely choosing the latter. Curiously, it’s the uncertainty surrounding their future rights to stay which leads them to having more concrete plans.
This is what Derek McGhee, Chris Moreh and Athina Vlachantoni found in the survey they administered in the run-up to the vote last June. In a recent paper focusing on Polish nationals – as the largest and most researched EU migrant group – they specifically sought to determine what concrete steps Polish nationals intended to take in case of a Leave vote in the EU Referendum. Adopting an approach based on ‘civic rights’ options rather than purely return or settlement plans, the authors identify applying for a Permanent Residence certificate (PRC) and/or British citizenship as the two legally viable routes to securing rights of residence. Since PRC applications require the ability to prove five years of ‘legal’ residence, the authors were also interested in knowing what the respondents’ plans were for the next five years regardless of the possibility of Brexit. In this way, the survey gives a clear look at how the vote will have changed EU nationals’ behaviour.
5-year plans and Brexit
For both scenarios, they offered several response options which can be grouped into four categories: leave the UK; remain in the UK and apply for a permanent residence certificate; stay and apply for British citizenship; and, remain in the UK without a concrete plan. In the non-Brexit scenario, 40% of respondents said they had already planned to apply for the PRC (with an additional 7% already holding a PRC) and 32% intended to apply for citizenship. Only 5% thought they would return to Poland, and 15% said they had planned to stay in the UK but did not have any concrete plans of ‘civic integration’.
In the Brexit scenario, the percentage of respondents who planned to return to Poland or another country increased to 10%, while the number of those planning to apply for either a PRC or British citizenship stayed the same. The difference was the drop in respondents who had no plans. Far from stopping migrants in their tracks, Brexit seems to have actually caused them to establish more concrete plans of ‘civic integration’.
Defining ‘civic integration’ as steps taken by EU migrants to secure their ‘civic rights’ in the remit of UK immigration law, the study highlights the reality that the majority of Polish nationals in the UK had already made plans for their civic integration. They were not intending to rely solely on their rights as EU citizens. In fact, the authors report that 66% of Polish respondents conveyed an intent to apply for British citizenship at some point.
Crucially, argue the authors, it wasn’t the demographic factors that predicted the respondents’ likelihood to adopt one strategy or another, but the civic ones. That is, in a diverse migrant group like Polish nationals in the UK, it’s the awareness and assessment of one’s rights, interest and social proximity to available civic integration options, and insecurities related to supranationally-derived rights that best explained medium-term plans and actions.
Whatever the case, EU nationals are making up their minds. And for the most part they are choosing to stay.