I am a Romanian PhD student, a teaching assistant and a researcher. One of Theresa May’s praised “brightest and the best” whose “contributions are welcome”. Today, I want to share my story.
Until I got to this point, I was in many ways an “undesirable migrant”.
My first experience in the UK was in 1997. My father got a temporary NHS contract, as there was a skill shortage. I attended the hospital’s nursery for 7 months, but my family chose to return to Romania. My mum was unemployed and my father had limited rights to work.
Meanwhile, my parents got divorced. I attended a free school and skipped many classes in the last college years. I grew up mainly with “working class kids” sometimes doing dangerous things. But I achieved the highest grade in the Romanian Baccalaurate and this opened many doors.
I returned to the UK at 18 to study. I passed an IELTS exam, but this was not enough to understand even half of what my British colleagues were saying.
Should I have been “sent back” then, as I could not properly engage in English conversations in my first few months?
Three years later, I graduated with a first class degree in Sociology from the University of Sussex. It was a fun but difficult time. My mum came looking for work when I was in my second year and we shared a studio room at some point. I worked various part time jobs. That is also when I met my British partner.
In 2015, I received offers from both the University of Cambridge and Oxford University to do my Masters. In the summer, I worked as an intern in London to save money. We had no savings and definitely not enough to pay the £10k tuition fee.
Should I have given up my dreams?
I borrowed money from the bank for my tuition fee and accepted my MPhil (Master of Philosophy) offer at the University of Cambridge. I had barely enough to cover the first term of college accommodation and no idea what to do next. My mum was made redundant and things were not going well.
Meanwhile, one of my colleagues was shocked to hear my experience of college: “So, you did not have preparation classes for Oxbridge interviews???”. Nope. This is maybe the reason why I failed my Oxford interview for undegraduates, despite passing the written test. Oh, also my poor English.
I read my MPhil handbook saying we should not do any paid work. I did paid work throughout my MPhil and finished with 72% overall. Meanwhile mum got a job and things got back to normal around graduation time, after a year of familiarising myself with Sainsbury’s Basic.
Should me and my mum have been deported due to insufficient resources in those times?
“If you do not make a net contribution you should be sent home”, some people say. Life is not a tickbox as the immigration categories are.
In 2016, after a summer of work on a temporary contract, I accepted my fully funded PhD at the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (UCL SSEES). This was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was sad to leave the University of Cambridge, but I could not have afforded a PhD with no funding. Funding is very competitive in social sciences.
My mum’s job was again subject to restructuring in 2017. After a few months of job searching, she decided to leave to Germany. She was also concerned about European citizens’ rights after Brexit. They are not guaranteed yet. She is working in Germany now, Britain lost a skilled professional in her.
In 2018, all things go well. I speak fluent English, I have a lovely British partner and I am halfway through my PhD. But I, like all 4 million EU citizens living in Britain and Brits in Europe am still living in limbo because of Brexit. Our reduced citizens’ rights are not secured in case of no deal.
In the mind of many people who post rude comments about EU citizens’ rights, such as those who comment on stories shared in Professor Tanja Bueltmann’s articles, we should be sent back home unless we are a constantly producing tax payment machine. It is important to realise the complexity of migrant stories.
According to these people’s logic, my mum should have been deported every time she lost her job and I should not have been allowed in with little English or “insufficient resources”.
We have not claimed a single benefit all these years, not even jobseeker’s allowance.
To everyone that tells me to stop criticising settled status because “I will be fine, because I am a PhD student and a skilled migrant”, I am saying: no.
I will not close the gate behind me just because I managed to become a “desirable migrant”. Citizens’ rights were promised for all.
We need a solution to protect all EU citizens’ rights, just as promised by Vote Leave. No more “bad migrant”-“good migrant” division games. People’s lives do not fit in a tickbox. Politicians should listen to more real migrant stories to understand and put people before politics.🔷
(This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected.)