(Editor’s note: We’re reposting “Dear Brits” – one of our best-read posts ever – on the second anniversary of Brexit to remind our British friends what it means in human terms to leave the European Union.)
In all the post-Brexit hysteria, we were interested in finding out what the “ordinary” British voters thought about leaving the European Union. And the media has hundreds of stories about the motivations of those who voted to stay and those who voted to leave.
But let me tell you a few things about the life of a non-EU citizen. When I came to Austria from Bosnia in 2003 to study at Technical University of Graz, I had to undergo various administrative and non-administrative checks. At one point, I and all my fellow Bosnian students had to show proof we didn’t have pneumonia, typhus – which I somewhat understand.
My home country is only about 300 kilometers from Austria and yet we were treated as if we came from 200 years ago, at least. On top of that, we had – and still have – the pleasure of needing a visa every year and paying for it, of course.
We even paid tuition for college, though the Austrians and EU students did not. But that was the deal, and I personally was happy to be able to work the lowest level student jobs and in return get a decent education.
The common attitude was “deal with it!” and so we did.
After college, I got my first job at a big construction company. The trick? I worked with a Bosnian contract. It was an all-in contract, written for slaves. But hey, I had a job.
I was one of three people in my branch office who had a master’s degree in engineering (much less went to college), spoke three foreign languages, drove 50,000 kilometers per year, yet I was still paid less than everyone.
But I dealt with it.
If the company was to say at any moment I was fired, I had two months to leave the country or find a new company. Many highly qualified non-EU citizens live this kind of life day-to-day and the only thing on our minds is, “What the hell was on the UK’s mind when they voted LEAVE?”
The UK always was the “favorite (and the spoiled) kid of the EU family.” It kept its currency. It had more favorable EU conditions and it always behaved a bit stand-offish toward the rest of the Europe, if we are honest. The UK has about 52 million residents and pays about 5 billion euros to EU fund per year (96 euros per citizen).
By comparison, Austria has 8 million residents and pays about 1 billion euros per year to EU fund (125 euros per citizen). Cornwall for example voted LEAVE and yet they were to get financial help from the EU in the amount of 200 million euros per year until 2020. Funny thing is, they hope to keep the financial help, even when they exit from the EU!
My friend, who is also a non-EU citizen, is a business developer and marketer in our company. We have highly developed technology that – aside from Austria – only Switzerland and Germany produce. In today’s business world, where business is international, everything is happening faster and closer. Of course, our company – like our competitors – does business abroad.
In order just to visit the UK for conferences, meetings and business development, non-EU citizens – including my friend – have to pay approximately 199 euros for a 6-month UK visa, 499 euros for 2 years and 800 euros for 5 years. And they take your passport while they work on your visa, so forget about traveling for a couple of weeks at least. I can only imagine what the procedure is like for those who actually want to work in the UK.
But I guess once again we just deal with it, right?
Talking to various fellow Austrians, all of them said pretty much the same thing: It will be interesting to see how things go from here AND the world will continue spinning without the UK in EU.
All in all, the UK did the EU a favor, showing all the other 27 member countries that leaving the EU is not a dream. It is a nightmare. So in Austria, where Right Wing parties have supported the “leave EU campaign” for some time, the leave voices suddenly have become quiet.
In my opinion, the ones who are harmed – the ones who know best what benefits the EU brings – are the British expats. They lived the life abroad. They experienced more of Europe. Yet many of them did not have the right to vote at this referendum.
As much as I feel for them and that they are on the verge of losing their freedom, I cannot feel for the UK in general, given that thousands of Europeans, Asians, and Africans have lived this life for years and decades, and were happy to have the opportunity to live under normal circumstances.
The UK brought itself into this “lose-lose” situation.
And it has two options:
• Or the British can bite their tongues, say we are sorry and not proceed with leaving the EU. They turn from a spoiled, favorite child into a grown-up, responsible country and face the reality.
The reality is, you UK citizens have great lives.
Your children are not drowning, fighting for their lives as they try to reach Europe. You are not bombed every day. You have good jobs that make it possible to pay the taxes and your expenses. You are the financial center of the world/Europe.
So stop whining about how hard everything is and deal with it!
About the author: Nina Avramovic Trninic is a civil engineer, and an expat originally from Tuzla, Bosnia. (Send comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org.)