I am one of many Latvians in the United Kingdom (UK) enjoying the benefits of freedoms given by the European Union (EU). As part of my right to free movement within the EU zone, I relocated to the UK. I am currently residing, studying and working in the city of London. Until the very last moment of the UK announcing the results of the referendum, to contemplate the idea of UK leaving the EU seemed highly unrealistic. However, in the morning of 24 June 2016, this reality was inevitable. I started to immediately think of what changes will be introduced and the impact this momentous decision will have on my status as a Latvian citizen in the UK.
In the Referendum of 20 September 2003, 67% of Latvians voted Yes which resulted in Latvia joining the EU on 1 May 2004. Latvians voted for economic stability and security considering that such a small country highly relies on the support of bigger nations. At that time not a great amount of considering was afforded to the possibility of high emigration as a direct result of the economic crisis. As well as to the fact that joining the EU would make moving within the EU a readily available and easy option. Starting from joining the EU up until the present, Latvians are moving to the other EU Member States for educational and work opportunities or simply the prospect of a better lifestyle. In the 2000’s the UK has been the most important host country to Latvian migrants and it is now a home to more than 80,000 Latvian citizens, which is one-third of the Latvian population outside Latvia.
Brexit has made these people wonder whether their lives are about to change. Although the recent UK Government announcement on the 10 July 2016 may have calmed this anxiety somewhat by announcing that after the UK leaving the EU, the legal status of EU nationals living in the UK will be properly protected. The Government also stated that they recognise and value the important contribution made by EU and other Non-EU citizens who are working, studying and living in the UK. Although nothing has been promised and the Government has not provided a great deal of clarification following the Referendum, actions such as this show the positive attitude towards EU nationals living in the UK.
At least one point has been clarified; if an EU national has been living in the UK for the past 5 consecutive years, the individual automatically has a right to permanent residence in the UK. Furthermore, those living in the UK for the past 6 continuous years are eligible to apply for British citizenship. However, for those, who are living in the UK for less than 5 years there is a possibility to apply for a registration certificate that would prove their rights of residence. In the Government announcement on the 11th July 2016, it is stated that no documentation is necessary neither for those living in the UK more than 5 years or for those living in the UK less than 5 years. The question is arising on this eligibility since this article has been removed from the website, and raises the question if this is perhaps a signal for the potential change?
But what about the impact of Brexit on Latvia as such, you may ask. Unfortunately, nothing is clear yet and will not get any clearer until the official announcement of leaving and negotiating of the new agreement between the UK and EU is achieved. People in Latvia are worried that Brexit will impact commercial communication and export between Latvia and the UK. There is also apprehension in regards to the impact on remittances from Latvians residing in the UK to their families in Latvia. It is not definite, but if Brexit would cause weakness in the economy of Europe, it will affect the whole export industry. For Latvia, it would mean the decline in the export volume, the slight increase in unemployment, less income as expected in the municipality or state budget and reduction of willingness to invest. Economic growth in Latvia may diminish as the competition in export markets will grow and the possibility to raise salary will be more complicated.
Nothing will happen immediately.That is for sure and that is what I say to comfort myself. However, one global thought does not leave my head- if the main aim of founding EU was peace and now one of the founding countries are leaving, what does that mean…?