The voter registration deadline for the EU referendum may have passed but there are thousands of UK residents who are being denied their right to vote. In fact, these non-UK citizens are most likely to be most affected by Brexit.
The right to vote is something which, after decades of fighting for equal rights, over 18s can take for granted in this country. But people who have lived here for many years, paying tax and contributing to the economy – yet not a UK citizen – are not allowed to do.
If the EU referendum results in Brexit this may mean that these long-term UK residents will have to leave the place they call home, unless they apply for UK citizenship. This is something 21-year-old Matt Kaminski is prepared to do.
Despite being born in London and having studied for four years at St Andrews in Scotland, Matt is a Polish-American citizen and subsequently can’t vote. Along with all the other non-UK citizens I spoke to he would choose to remain, even if he were a citizen.
What is more important [than citizenship] to me is that I’d like to see the UK remain an open and outward looking society, a country that’s able to work easily together with other EU countries to help solve the increasing numbers of international problems the world faces.
After all, if we severe our ties with the EU, it’s not going to make it easier for us to prevent dangerous climate change, to tackle global tax evasion and to stop terrorism.
Whilst Matt concedes that democracy in the European Union isn’t perfect, he believes it “gets really bad press in the UK”.
“If the UK government does something well and it’s a success, it’s a UK success. However if something goes wrong, it’s a problem that the EU created, or helped to create”
“When I travel to see my cousins in Poland, I see the great work the EU is doing in that country to support (very recently) the rule of law, promote democracy and to fundamentally invest in the country and its infrastructure to help it prosper in the future.”
Bente Klein, a 23-year-old postgradute student at Edinburgh, also accepts that the EU is both “great” and “faulty”, but believes the relationship between Britain and the EU to be mutually beneficial.
As a citizen or non-citizen, Bente believes she would vote to remain, and in her current situation she feels her rights would not be safeguarded if the country voted for Brexit.
Now 20 years old, Noorin Malik moved to the UK from Germany at 13 and although she had the choice to apply for dual nationality, at the time the cost didn’t appear to outweigh the benefits. For Noorin, her case to remain is one of protecting the Erasmus scheme and academia.
My perspective is that of a student at an English university and as a student I fear Britain cutting itself off from Europe’s academic knowledge society.
Even if I was studying in Germany, I would worry about losing links with British universities for academic collaborations as well as the study abroad option to the UK.
A significant portion of the EU debate has been around immigration; a subject that has all too frequently been made a scapegoat – and unsurprisingly non-UK citizens are tired of it. Corinne Mokhefi, who came to the UK 23 years ago as a student, is one such person.
“Immigration contributes to making this country work and grow”, Corinne said. “I don’t buy the criticism it drives wages down and puts a strain on services. Employers pay wages, if they choose to violate the law on minimum wage then they should be punished. Employees can’t be blamed for that.
“As for the strain, severe under investment is the main cause, besides, immigrants tend to be young and healthy and don’t use the NHS much – in 23 years I went to hospital twice and that was to give birth.”
Like many young people, Tom Hawk, a 19-year-old university student, worries what impact Brexit would have on his career. As a touring musician, not only would it cost more to play European shows, but the tariffs on merchandise would provide another blockade to international success for up and coming bands.
Music wouldn’t be the only art effected. Tom said:
“There is an EU creative arts fund of over 1 billion pounds that the UK has access to; 46% of British applications get approved. That’s a lot of money for creative industries in Britain.”
He also echoed a sentiment that everyone I spoke to had:
I think that if you’re contributing to society and life in the UK, then you should be able to vote on referendums and general elections.
Almost unanimously, these non-UK citizens proposed a threshold of having demonstrably lived in the UK for at least five years in order to have the right to vote.
Polls over recent weeks have shown that whichever outcome transpires, it will be a tight win. With all the non-UK citizens I spoke to confident that they would vote to remain, would we potentially be looking at a different result if those most affected could have their say? It would seem so.
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