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BRITAIN'S FUTURE IN EUROPE

EUROPEAN UNION

Brits: Why vote away your right to move in Europe?

The right to move around Europe is an incredible privilege. Brits about to vote in their referendum should know that this right is at risk, says The Local's Managing Editor James Savage.

Brits: Why vote away your right to move in Europe?
The last view of Britain: the White Cliffs of Dover from a ferry. Photo: Luctor/WikimediaCommons

The question on Facebook from a clever, cosmopolitan schoolfriend set the alarm bells ringing: ‘If we leave the EU, will it really make it harder for us to move to other countries?’

The answer to this is surely that it might. Yet it’s worrying if many young Brits don’t know what’s at stake.

The thing is, Brits rather like their freedom to move around Europe – but the campaign for Britain to leave the EU has focused heavily on restricting the right of other Europeans to live and work in the UK. 

According to a revealing poll by YouGov in December, two thirds of Brits thought they should have the right to live and work in other EU countries – yet only one third believed that other Europeans should have the right to live in Britain.

In other words, Britain is about to go and vote on a subject which, terrifyingly, it can’t be bothered to focus on long enough to form a coherent view. The Leave campaign has so far managed to create a vague impression that you can restrict immigration to Britain without equivalent restrictions being placed on Brits who want to move abroad.

Perhaps this reflects the way Brits talk about migration: Brits on the continent are expats; Europeans in Britain are migrants. 

Unfortunately for any British diplomats charged with interpreting the will of the people in negotiations, international law doesn’t recognize this distinction. As far as the negotiators will be concerned, 100,000 Bulgarian immigrant kitchen fitters have at least the same value as 100,000 sunburnt British expat pensioners.

Let’s be clear about one thing: a vote for Britain to leave the EU will be a vote to cut immigration from Europe. It would mean becoming even more detached than Norway or Switzerland, which have pretty much the same immigration rules as EU member states. Immigration is the most important issue for Leave voters and it has been the main focus of the Leave campaign. And if you stop EU citizens coming to Britain, Brits will be prevented from moving to the EU.

This would be a shame: the right to move from one European country to another has perhaps increased Britons’ personal freedom more than any other reform since the country joined in 1973. The movement the other way has also been positive – people from the rest of the EU who live in the UK are an asset, paying far more in tax than they take out in benefits.

Like over two million other Brits, I’m biased: I’ve used this freedom myself – and I’d recommend any fellow Brit to try it. At the age of 21 I hopped onto a train in London, hopped off in Paris and jumped into a job. I then fell in love with a Swede and landed in Sweden, where I launched a career that has been more stimulating than anything I’d have done at home.

And whether you want to start a lingerie shop in Madrid, be a crime-scene cleaner in Germany, or a gardener in Sweden, the opportunities are out there.

There are lots of compelling reasons for Britain to stay in the EU – there’s a consensus that it’s better for the country’s economy, it serves Britain’s strategic interests and our allies say it’s where we belong.

But these reasons, while vitally important, perhaps don’t resonate on an emotional level. But our right to put down roots in Vienna, Rome, Berlin, Krakow or Nice – just because we want to – should. It is a privilege worth protecting, and I suspect young Britons understand this. It’s important that they know that this right is at risk.

 
For members

IMMIGRATION

EXPLAINED: What are the main obstacles to finding a job when moving to an EU country?

Moving to another country is never easy, as it requires going through cultural changes and administrative formalities. It can be even more complicated when looking for a job.

EXPLAINED: What are the main obstacles to finding a job when moving to an EU country?

According to new data released by the EU statistical office, Eurostat, the knowledge of the national language and the recognition of professional qualifications are the two most common obstacles experienced by foreign-born people in finding a ‘suitable’ job in countries of the European Union.

Overall, about a quarter of people born outside the EU who had experience in working or looking for work in the bloc reported some difficulties getting a ‘suitable’ job for level of education (without considering the field of expertise or previous experience).

The Eurostat analysis shows that the situation is better for EU citizens moving within the bloc. But there are major differences depending on countries and gender.

Life can be more difficult for women

In 2021, 13.2 percent of men and 20.3 percent of women born in another European Union country reported obstacles in getting a suitable job in the EU place of residence.

These proportions however increase to 20.9 percent for men and 27.3 percent for women born in a non-EU country with a high level of development (based on the United Nations’ Human Development Index) and 31.1 percent for men and 35.7 percent for women from non-EU countries with a low or medium level of development.

Finland (42.9 percent), Sweden (41.7 percent), Luxembourg (34.6 percent) and France (32.1 percent) are the countries with the highest shares of people born outside the EU reporting problems. Norway, which is not part of the bloc, has an even higher percentage, 45.2, and Switzerland 34.3 percent.

In contrast, Cyprus (11.2 percent), Malta (10.9 percent), Slovenia (10.2 percent), Latvia (10 percent) and Lithuania (6.7 percent) have the lowest proportion of people born outside the EU reporting difficulties.

Lack of language skills

The lack of skills in the national language is most commonly cited as a hurdle, and it is even more problematic for women.

This issue was reported by 4.2 percent of men born in another EU country, 5.3 percent of those born in a developed country outside the EU and 9.7 percent of those from a non-EU country with a middle or low level of development. The corresponding shares for women, however, were 5.6, 6.7 and 10.5 percent respectively.

The countries where language skills were more likely to be reported by non-EU citizens as an obstacle in getting a relevant job were Finland (22.8 percent), Luxembourg (14.7 percent) and Sweden (13.1 percent).

As regards other countries covered by The Local, the percentage of non-EU citizens citing the language as a problem was 12.4 percent in Austria, 10.2 percent in Denmark, 7.8 percent in France, 5.1 percent in Italy, 2.7 percent in Spain, 11.1 percent on Norway and 10.1 percent in Switzerland. Data is not available for Germany.

Portugal (77.4 percent), Croatia (68.8 percent), Hungary (58.8 percent) and Spain (58.4 percent) have the highest share of people from outside the EU already speaking the language as a mother tongue before arriving, while more than 70 percent of non-EU citizens residing in Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and Norway said they had participated in language courses after arrival.

Lisbon Portugal

Portugal has the highest share of people from outside the EU already speaking the language as a mother tongue before arriving. (Photo by Aayush Gupta on Unsplash)

Recognition of qualifications

Another hurdle on the way to a relevant job in EU countries is the lack of recognition of a formal qualification obtained abroad. This issue was reported by 2 percent of men and 3.8 percent of women born in another EU country. It was also mentioned by 3.3 percent of men and 5.9 percent of women born in a developed country outside the EU, and 4.8 percent of men and 4.6 percent of women born in a less developed non-EU country.

Eurostat says this reflects an “unofficial distrust” among employers of qualification obtained abroad and the “low official validation of foreign education”.

The lack of availability of a suitable job was another factor mentioned in the survey. In Croatia, Portugal and Hungary, this was the main obstacle to getting an adequate position.

This issue concerned 3.3 percent of men and 4.5 percent of women born in another EU country, 4.2 percent of men and 5 percent of women born in a developed non-EU country It also worried 3.9 percent of men and 5.1 percent of women born in a less developed non-EU country.

Restricted right to work due to citizenship or residence permits, as well as plain discrimination on the grounds of origin were also cited as problems.

Discrimination was mostly reported by people born in a less developed non-EU country (3.1 percent for men and 3.3 percent for women) compared to people born in highly developed non-EU countries (1.9 percent for men and 2.2 percent for women).

Citizenship and residence permits issues are unusual for people from within the EU. For people from outside the EU, this is the only area where women seem to have fewer problems than men: 1.6 percent of women from developed non-EU countries reported this issue, against 2.1 percent of men, with the share increasing to 2.8 and 3.3 percent respectively for women and men from less developed non-EU states.

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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