EU Citizens Face Uncertain Future in Brexit Britain
With the two-year clock ticking on Britain's departure from the European Union, Spanish nurse Joan Pons and millions of other EU citizens living in the UK are facing an uncertain future.
Protesters wave European Union flags during an anti-Brexit demonstration after Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May triggered the process by which the United Kingdom will leave the European Union, in Birmingham on March 29, 2017. (REUTERS/Darren Staples)
London: With the two-year clock ticking on Britain's departure from the European Union, Spanish nurse Joan Pons and millions of other EU citizens living in the UK are facing an uncertain future.
"We want guarantees soon," said 41-year-old Pons, who works in Norfolk in eastern England and has been living in Britain for 17 years.
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Pons has three children aged five, 11 and 14 who were all born in Britain, and they are now worried about whether they will need to move to Spain.
Britain formally launched Brexit proceedings on Wednesday, following a divisive referendum campaign which saw immigration take centre stage.
More than three million EU citizens have made Britain their home, but Prime Minister Theresa May has promised to tighten immigration controls.
But for now EU nationals — most of them from eastern and southern Europe — do not know if they can stay.
Pons is one of the 60,000 EU nationals working in the National Health Service, representing about 5 percent of its staff of 1.2 million.
The uncertainty has already proved too much for some EU healthcare professionals.
She requested anonymity since she has not yet spoken about her plans to her managers.
EU workers are also the backbone of the "Garden of England" in Kent, southeast England, where local farmers say they rely heavily on foreign staff because they cannot find enough Britons willing to do the required jobs.
Gabriela Szomoru, a 31-year-old Romanian who has worked her way up to an office job at a salad farm, resents the pro-Brexit mantra of EU workers driving down wages.
Szomoru is married to a tractor driver from Hungary and the two are planning to buy a house in the area, seeing their future in Britain.
Nick Ottewell, the director of the farm where Szomoru works, said he had received insults for making comments about the need for immigrants in the local press.
Ottewell said sectors like farming, healthcare and construction "wouldn't function" without them.
Frenchman Nicolas Hutton, who co-chairs The3Million, campaign group for EU nationals, told AFP he was "devastated" after the referendum result and wanted EU citizens to "have a voice".
"I hope that the British government and the EU will listen to us and ring fence our rights so we are not used to negotiate any other items on the agenda," he said after May announced the start of Brexit.
"We don't want to be the bargaining chips in the negotiations," he said.
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