Canadians living and working in Britain say they’re considering changing long-standing plans after the results of Thursday’s referendum. The nationwide decision to withdraw from the European Union has many of them speculating about the impact the pending changes will have on their work and residency status in the country. They fear that losing access to other EU countries may curtail their career prospects, and some even harbour fears that they may find themselves rejected. The nationalist, anti-migration sentiment that characterized elements of the “leave” campaign was not directed at Canadians, but some wonder if that may change down the road. They say they fear they may soon be classed with other foreign nationals who have been discussed in unflattering terms during the divisive campaign.
Aleisha McLean, 28, said she woke up Friday morning considering an option she had never previously entertained — moving back to Canada. She and her British husband had long planned to remain in his home country, where McLean also gained her master’s degree and launched her career. The referendum came as a shock to her, McLean said, adding the “remain” campaign that she helped to canvass for appeared to have strong support in her circles. The anti-immigration rhetoric from the “leave” side is of particular concern to her now that the country has opted to withdraw from the EU, she said. She said she and others fear the unwelcome attitude towards migrants from Europe may eventually extend to those who have traditionally been embraced with open arms. “There’s been a lot of hurtful messaging around immigration, and although that hasn’t been directed towards Canadians or other Commonwealth citizens, it’s still being felt,” McLean said in a telephone interview. “We feel like we’re almost a target as well. We feel like we could be the next to be targeted by these sentiments.”
Similar fears are behind Nicola Hastings’ recent decision to expedite her return to Canada. The 26-year-old made use of her dual citizenship to pursue a university degree in the U.K. and is currently living in Edinburgh with her fiance. Hastings said she’s been struck by the contrasting approach towards migrants demonstrated by politicians campaigning to leave the EU and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has spearheaded a massive initiative to bring Syrian refugees to Canada. “I’m feeling a little disillusioned here,” Hastings said, adding she and her fiance are moving up their plans to return to her home country. “We want to live in a country that isn’t afraid of immigration and with what the Canadian government is doing with Syrians, it seems like a good time to come home.”
Heather McMillan is taking a more cautious approach, saying she does not expect anyone’s residency status to change in the country for at least a couple of years. Her own job with a head-hunting company is secure, as she is sponsored by her employer. But she, too, is disappointed by the outcome and the impact she believes it may have on work prospects for those who aren’t as fortunate. “It’s just the closing of the doors to very qualified people, or people just looking for better opportunity or a better way of life or to learn more about different cultures,” McMillan said. “Putting all these restrictions could be scary for other people.”
Debora Rexho said it’s her own professional prospects that are now in doubt as a result of the referendum. Her long-held hopes of becoming a permanent resident were based in part on the increased access to European countries that a U.K. passport would have granted her. She said the triumph of the “leave” camp has ensured that if she obtains her residency, she will now find it harder to fulfil her dream of working in other European countries. Rexho said she doesn’t anticipate much short-term change, but said she fears the repercussions of Thursday’s vote will resonate much more in the coming years. Citing reports suggesting the “remain” vote was largely championed by a younger demographic, she lamented the fact that a potentially life-altering decision was made by those who may not be around to watch the scenario play out in full. “Obviously the younger people are the people who are going to have to live with this decision for much longer,” she said. “It is a bit of a shame, especially because the voter turnout, I think, was higher for the older generation.”