Brexit creates uncertainty for 4 million expats

In March 2013 my husband told me there was a possibility of his work moving us out to San Francisco from London. 16 months later we were on a plane ready to begin new lives. It doesn’t sound very long, but those 16 months felt like a lifetime. I found it hard to give my career in the UK 110 per cent, when I was also looking into the work opportunities in California. I felt split and frustrated by the uncertainty.


Ultimately, if our visas had been refused those 16 months would have faded into our joint history. We might have occasionally said to each other: Do you remember when we almost moved to California? But otherwise life would have carried on as normal: same flat, same friends, same jobs, same hobbies.


I feel angry, disappointed and shocked at the results of the Brexit referendum. I tossed and turned last night thinking about my home country and the message it’s sending to the rest of the world. It’s like we’ve put a ‘CLOSED’ sign on Britain. The markets are responding as such, the pound is tanking and the Prime Minister has resigned.


But while I’ve always been passionately in the ‘remain’ camp, the reality is I don’t know what affect Brexit will have on me personally or on the opportunities available to my family. It will be years; decades even, before the personal ramifications are clear.


But 3 million EU citizens living in the UK and the 1.3 million Britons living in Europe are waking up to an uncertain fate. Lawyers are undecided about what Brexit means for these 4.3 million expats.


I have school friends, university friends, neighbours and old colleagues who will all be thinking:

What next?

How long do have?

Am I welcome here?

Should I start to look for work back home?

Do I need to find new schools for my children?

London mayor graphic

London Mayor, Sadiq Kahn, published the following message on Facebook:


I want to send a clear message to every European resident living in London – you are very welcome here. As a city, we are grateful for the enormous contribution you make, and that will not change as a result of this referendum.
There are nearly one million European citizens living in London today, and they bring huge benefits to our city – working hard, paying taxes, working in our public services and contributing to our civic and cultural life.
We all have a responsibility to now seek to heal the divisions that have emerged throughout this campaign – and to focus on what unites us, rather than that which divides us.


I echo Sadiq Kahn’s sentiment. It’s an important message. But it will be of little comfort to families that are currently wondering whether they’ll ultimately be welcome in the country they call home. I found 16 months of uncertainty challenging, but it’s nothing compared to how I’d be feeling if I thought I might ultimately be facing deportation.  


For now policymakers will get to work trying to figure out how to disentangle Britain from the EU. In a few weeks the pundits will turn their attention to the US election and the markets will stabilize. But for the British expats in the EU and the European citizens living in the UK the Brexit vote has very immediate, personal ramifications and creates an uncertain future.


However you’re feeling about the Brexit results, spare a thought today for your Spanish colleague, your French neighbour or your friend living in Italy. Brexit is scary for all of us but the consequences for some could be truly life changing.

About Felicity H. Barber

I am a speechwriter, who coaches people to make awesome speeches, presentations and pitches. I moved to San Francisco from London with my software engineer husband and two cats in 2014. As if moving half way around the world wasn’t enough, I made the crazy decision to start my own business at the same time! Life has been a big adjustment to go from in-house to freelance, tea and scones to coffee and brownies, rainy days to constant sunshine, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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