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An international student’s perspective on Brexit

"Brexit seems to have gone out of everyone’s mind, but for international students it is the most important thing happening right now."

THE BREXIT deadline may have been extended for another three months, but the concerns of EU citizens at the university still remain.

That’s why Marie Stadtler, the Students’ Union’s international officer, has organised the Brexit info café, taking place tomorrow, November 1, in Underground.

“Brexit was coming, there was a deadline, and I hadn’t seen anything from the university side, so as international officer I decided to put on the event,” Marie explained.

International officer Marie Stadtler has organised the Brexit Info cafe for concerned EU citizens. Credit: Stirling Students’ Union

An immigration lawyer, as well as members of the Citizens Advice Bureau from Stirling and Clackmannanshire will be at the event, to discuss the concerns and the issues that international students will face over the coming months and years.

Marie moved to Stirling from Germany to study a degree in politics back in 2015, before the referendum on EU membership.

Since the Brexit vote in June 2016, EU citizens at the university have been stuck in limbo, uncertain of their future.

Marie said: “Because it’s been dragging on for so long, Brexit seems to have gone out of everyone’s mind, but for international students in Scotland, it is the most important thing happening right now.

“I’m an EU citizen and an international student. My peers and I have so many concerns that need to be addressed.

“We need to know the exact issue around settled status. We don’t know if it will be deal or no deal, but what will happen in a no deal situation?

“The government’s plan was to have a three-year VISA for students but in Scotland, we have a four-year degree. As a first year, that must feel scary to come here and not feel secure.”

At the Brexit info cafe, international students will get the opportunity to find out how to apply for pre-settled and settled status, and how to go about getting British Citizenship in the future.

“It’s a long process”, Marie continued. “Due to the nature of my degree, the Home Office won’t give me settled status because I have had two study abroad periods integrated into my degree, despite having lived in Stirling for two and a half years.”

It won’t be until after living in the country for five years, that she will then be awarded settled status.

During those five years, Marie will not be allowed to live or work in another country for more than six months out of any given year, in order for it to count towards her settled status.

She said: “This will really restrict my life, in terms of being able to travel, or work, or apply for internships abroad.

“My boyfriend is Scottish. If I move back to Germany at some point, he couldn’t just come with me. It’s just not that simple anymore.

“And If I move to another country, what happens if my parents get older and become ill? I might not be able to relocate easily to look after them. It’s very frustrating and very sad, it’s putting barriers between families as well as relationships.

“Along with a lot of my friends, I did study abroad with Erasmus. Being brought up in the era of freedom of movement, it’s normal for us to have friends all over the continent and now it’s like the government is putting up a barrier for thousands of friendships and relationships.

Marie also voiced her frustrations that she will not be able to vote in the upcoming General Election on December 12, due to her EU status.

She said: “I find it really frustrating. I am a Scottish Green party member; I joined because even though I can’t vote in a General Election, I wanted to at least do something.

“I can vote in a local election or a Holyrood election but not in the General Election, which is arguably the most important of them all.”

Although the same rules apply in reverse in Germany, Marie still believes that there should be discussions to change this.

She continued: “In Scotland, we [EU citizens and international students] contribute to the economy. Even after I graduate, I still want to stay in Scotland because I want to give back.

“I haven’t had to pay council tax. I want to live here and contribute to the economy and that’s how I intend to give back. But even now, I pay rent, I go into supermarkets, I use public transport, I’ve worked in a part-time job. The economy benefits from EU citizens.”

Local MSP Bruce Crawford (SNP, Stirling) has blamed the plummeting migration figures in Stirling on the Conservative government in Westminster.

He said: “Immigration is a necessity for places like Stirling; we have a huge tourism sector here and local businesses I have spoken to have said that they are screaming out for people, both low skilled and no skilled, to come here to work.

MSP Bruce Crawford is a keen advocate for EU citizens, playing a part in scrapping the proposed £65 “settled status fee” for EU citizens. Credit: expressandstar.com

“The Tory government is threatening Scotland’s economy and Stirling’s public services with its hostile environment immigration policies, which it knows will leave places like Stirling poorer and worse off.”

The figures published by the National Office of Statistics also revealed that since the referendum on EU membership, net migration from the region fell to just 59,000 in the year ending in March 2019 – less than a third of the level four years ago.

Scottish member of the European Parliament Alyn Smith, who was recently selected to fight for Stirling’s Westminster seat in December, added: “By cutting off much needed immigration for Scotland’s economy, the UK government is sending the working age population into decline. 

“Yet again, Scotland is being completely ignored by this Tory government and our interests have been put to the side.” 

The region’s MP Stephen Kerr (Conservative, Stirling) was either unable or unwilling to comment.

Marie believes that the uncertainty is the main concern that plagues international students studying at Scottish universities on a daily basis.

And with a General Election announced ahead of another Brexit extension, the uncertainty will only continue to grow.

Whichever party or coalition of parties gets into office in December, will have a massive say over the future of the UK in regard to Brexit. The Liberal Democrats want an “exit from Brexit”, while the Conservatives want to get Brexit done.

However, Marie has almost resigned herself to the fact that the future is not a positive one.

She said: “I just don’t feel that either of the main parties [Labour and Conservatives] really want to fight for the rights of EU citizens. I don’t have big hopes for the General Election.”

Although Marie voted in her German constituency at the European Union elections in May, some of her peers were turned away from the polls in Stirling, through no fault of their own.

She said: “I can’t even watch parliament on the television anymore or follow everyday news because it is just so childish. There’s no respect in Westminster at the moment.

Brexit Party MEPs turned their backs when the EU anthem played in the parliament in Brussels. Credit: guardian.com

“From my point of view, it is baffling. In Germany, there are meaningful discussions among all parties, even the far right AFD party.

“And in Brussels, the Brexit Party have come in, and instead of contributing to discussion, or trying to improve the EU from the inside, they are either failing to show, or turning their backs on speakers.

“I hate watching the world of politics move past me without being able to influence it. As a politics student it frustrates me. There is a hostile environment within the Home Office at the moment, which affects us all.”

Featured image credit: brexitcentral.com

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