The exit of Britain from the European Union, sealed in last year’s Brexit vote, has left many Czechs living in the UK wondering whether there will be a place for them there in the future. British Prime Minister Theresa May has backed their right to remain after Brexit takes effect, stating that EU citizens make a “vital contribution’ to British society and the economy”. The fact is, much is now up in the air and some are worried they could fall through the cracks.
Thirty-nine-year-old Lucie is a Czech national who has lived in Britain since her early 20s, working freelance as an English teacher and musician. She married a British man five years ago and considered application for residency a formality. Her situation in Britain however became more precarious when – to her surprise – her application was rejected by the Home Office. She told Czech Radio’s reporter in London the moment she received the answer was a shock indeed.
“I went to a café to have a cry and The Beatles Help! came on the radio. ‘Help me if you can, I’m feeling down’, and at that moment I felt it was about me. But the next line is ‘And I do appreciate you being around’. And I felt, who tells me that? And then it was like, aha! That could be Great Britain, which does appreciate us being here, so I won’t give up.”
Of course, there are no guarantees. The freedom of movement of labour even pre-Brexit was no automatic path to permanent residency, far from it. Great Britain in the second half of 2016 meanwhile – rejected 20 percent of applications from EU citizens for permanent residency: 12,800 applicants did not fit the bill. The mood post-Brexit at times has not helped and the Czech Embassy in London, for its part, is doing what it can for its citizens; Libor Sečka is the Czech Ambassador to London:
“We are informing British politicians as well as members of the British government about the situation post-Brexit, and the current atmosphere, which has not always been positive. We have witnessed a number of complications for our citizens at British bureaux and these are all things we are trying to monitor, to assess and inform our British colleague about in hope of improvement.
Lucie told Czech Radio in her case there had been questions over her economic activity and also length of stay over five years which had led to rejection by the Home Office; she has since appealed the decision; at the same time she says she hopes the matter will be resolved by British lawmakers instead.
“I am now waiting for a court decision but in the meantime I hope that something changes in the legislation. There is a lot of lobbying for the whole process to be simplified. I joined the 3 Million forum and I realised there were thousands and thousands of us in the same situation. I wanted to add my voice.”
The 3 million forum is a group of EU citizens living in Britain concerned about their future in the UK who are campaigning for a new law to protect their rights post-Brexit.