Am I a Brit of foreign origin or a foreigner with a British passport? The 2021 census tries to capture information about the population’s nationality and how they identify themselves.
My sister, my brother’s daughter and I are resident in the UK and are required to fill in the census form. I was ‘naturalised’ 40 years ago. What does that make me? British European or a European Brit?
Until the UK decided to leave the EU, we had not really thought a lot about how we identified ourselves. We all had European passports: I have a British passport; my sister and niece have Austrian passports. We are all European. If asked, I would say that I am British of Hungarian origin.
The story of my family, being refugees from communist Hungary, is a typical European story: we had lived for several years in Austria and then our father’s job took us to Germany. After the divorce of our parents, we came to the UK in 1970 when our mother remarried to an Englishman.
It didn’t take long for us to feel at home. We were young and we had learned English at school and the younger ones even lost their foreign accents very quickly. Our stepfather helped us with the necessary practical adjustments. My sister and brother went to local schools, while I went to University in London.
Both my sister and I married British citizens. We never thought that having different passports would have any impact on our lives. We came to the UK with Austrian passports. My sister didn’t bother to change her Austrian citizenship, as she hates paperwork and she didn’t think it was necessary.
My brother and I applied to be ‘naturalised’ in 1982, as it made our jobs easier to have British passports. In my case, being married to a Brit and having a British stepfather were sufficient to be given British citizenship. When travelling abroad, I started to talk about ‘us in the UK’ as I had made this my home and felt accepted as an ‘honorary Brit’.
My brother married an Austrian and after their wedding he moved to Vienna. He now has two daughters with Austrian passports. One of his daughters moved to the UK to study and stayed on to start a family, and he now also has a granddaughter with a British passport.
Because he has kept his British passport, he cannot vote in Austrian elections, even though he has lived there for 35 years; but he is also excluded from voting in the UK due to the 15-year rule.
The story of my family is far from unique. There are around 3.5 million EU citizens living in the UK. Most of them who have lived here for decades would have thought of themselves as Brits born in mainland Europe. But the reality of what Brexit meant for their lives in the UK hit them hard and many had to start questioning their identity.
Holders of European passports living in the UK must apply to be allowed to stay in this country through an online process called the EU Settlement Scheme or EUSS.
This sounds simple, but sadly it is a registration process needing good IT skills and documentary evidence, sometimes going back decades.
Here is what Italian citizen Anna Amato experienced when she applied for residency through the EUSS. Her video tells how, after having lived in the UK for 55 years and not knowing any other country, she was refused settled status. Her words are heart-breaking and sadly she is just one of hundreds of examples.
“In my case, I had to live for over 2 years with uncertainty and with the fear of being deported. But finally, after a long battle with the Home Office, I was able to obtain my ILR (Indefinite Leave to Remain) through the Windrush Scheme. This allowed me to apply for British citizenship which I was given only a few weeks ago.
vI was awarded compensation for the emotional stress I have suffered, along with an apology letter from Priti Patel. However, my case is currently in arbitration because I strongly believe that the Home Office broke the law when they violated my right to feel safe in my own home.”
Anna’s case is not a one-off
A group of EU citizens living in the UK have collected their personal stories in a book called In Limbo, where many other testimonies may be found. Not only did they feel that they were being used as bargaining chips in the UK-EU negotiations, but that the government did not keep their promise that nothing would change for them after the UK voted to leave the EU.