A Guide to Brexit & UK Visas for Travellers and Migrants

Two years ago now, the United Kingdom, in which I was born and live, voted in a referendum to leave the European Union – the process referred to as Brexit. Here is our guide to Brexit & UK Visas for travellers.

Introduction

The European Union referendum result was not what I wanted, personally. As a person who enjoys other cultures, travel and people from all walks of life, this event saddened me. I believe passionately in any individuals freedom to go to, work within and live wherever they want to.

It seems like a crazy decision to me but then most Brits don’t travel as much as I have. Many people have a different perspective on the world. I understand and respect that but I do strongly disagree, so wanted to write something useful on the topic to help those coming to Britain, that it might impact.

With this guide, speculation is unavoidable, as we don’t know what the final outcomes of Brexit will be but this post will help visitors, working holiday visa users, migrants, immigrants and travellers understand what Brexit means here in the UK.

Personally for me, the Brexit result is something that has affected my own desire to live and be part of the UK and I plan to move away, at least temporarily. It is not the main reason, of course but part of it.

Brexit has also dented foreigners desires to move to or travel Britain and we are already seeing a slowing in the numbers of EU citizens choosing to come to the UK.

The UK seems a more closed minded place than it did a few years ago but that is why a guide like this is a must read for any perspective travellers to the UK.

Read More: A post on why Ian Paterson is leaving the UK and the Brexit effect on people like him.

Brexit Why I'm Leaving The UK
The EU Member States & UK

Cultural Differences

The United Kingdom has an international reputation as a rich cultural place. It is featured in lots of TV shows and films, show all over the world and UK music is well know. It can appear glamorous but also the reality can be different and I wouldn’t like you to be caught out by surprises, if you decide to come here.

Politics & Economy

The UK is of course a capitalist economy and western society. It is more politically right wing than Europe, in that central government run many fewer public services, like transport or utilities. It is similar in that respect to the USA but is less libertarian, as the UK has a more hierarchical society – the UK has a monarchy and an unelected House of Lords (senate) for example.

If you share these traditional, conservative, right wing values, you’ll enjoy living here. The closest relations politically are the USA and former commonwealth countries like Australia and New Zealand.

The majority of the British economy is now service sector. The UK went through a period of de-industrialisation in the 80’s. The economy shifted from one that makes things, to one that now provides services. As a result most jobs are now in offices, rather than being manual, involving engineering or trade skills. The finance sector makes up a considerable part of the economy.

To put it simply, the economy is mostly white collar, rather than blue collar.

Society

Britain still has lots of traditional hierarchies, so there is less opportunity for social mobility. Unless you went to public school, or have high society family connections, it is very difficult to get into politics, journalism, law, business leadership with large firms or many other leading professions. And it is getting worse right now, not better.

Social Mobility The Charts That Shame Britain 1
Credit: The Guardian

There is less social mobility and opportunity than in similar countries like Australia, who don’t have the long history of entrenched hierarchy, or the USA, who are famous for ‘The American Dream’. In these countries it is a core value that they support anyone and everyone’s right to be successful based on merit. Australia is of course part of the British Commonwealth but that is one stage detached from the monarchy of the UK.

The Attitudes That Caused Brexit

It is thought that many of the people who voted for Brexit, are people who live in former industrial towns and cities, who have seen a large decline in living standards, since the move to a more service orientated economy. These places are often a little run down and lacking in jobs and investment.

There are also a wealthy elite who support Brexit because it will give them more power to increase their wealth. It is thought they would like to turn the UK into a tax haven style country, which would have been impossible within the EU.

Many regular Brexit supporters will say they wanted to leave the EU, to take sovereignty from the European Parliament, back to British parliament. This is at least partially a view which has been imparted into the UK through anti-EU newspapers.

Boris Johnson for example, used to write for The Times about the EU. But as the parliament was quite a boring place to report on, he used to elaborate on stories and make things up, to make them more interesting. These stories often took on an anti-EU narrative, wildly claiming the parliament were forcing the UK to do foolish, strange or bad things, against our will.

The other main sentiment that caused Brexit, was anti-immigrant views. Many people – again, mainly in former industrial towns and cities – feel there aren’t enough jobs and opportunities for them and immigrants are getting in the way of these opportunities. Many ‘Leave’ voters look at the NHS for example and ask why they are hiring immigrant staff instead of training local people.

Remain Attitudes

Many of the areas that supported remain, are places where there have been significantly better standards of living in the last 20 years. Remainers often don’t have a good grasp of what it is like living in parts of the country, where things are not so good. Deindustalisation in some cities left them without jobs and destroyed their sense of self.

One of the core Remain arguments is that being an EU member increase Britain’s economic prosperity. The argument is likely to be true but it is a very money focused and often greedy sounding, one dimensional argument when put in the terms of ‘my earning’ – not so much when put in general societal terms. People in the United Kingdom are very money focused in general – we are a ‘nation of shopkeepers’, so the saying goes.

Lots of remain voters look at institutions like the NHS and how immigrants plug the employment gaps and see that as a benefit. There is also a side argument put forward for using immigration to help balance the UK’s pension gap. This is caused by a large population of retirement age (65+) and not enough working age people to pay the taxes needed to fund their pension benefits.

Brexit Guide per area
Yellow areas voted remain, Blue areas voted leave EU – dark areas = strongest vote

The Northern Ireland Situation

Brexit raises some very important difficulties for Northern Ireland, in terms of how the border will work. As it is the only part of the United Kingdom that has a land border with the EU, it represents a huge challenge.

If Brexit means the UK comes out of the EU Customs Union agreement and Single Market, then there will need to be a hard border in Ireland. This is very strongly opposed by almost everyone who lives in both Ireland and N. Ireland. This could be the catalyst for trouble to flair up again, after 20 years of peace – known as the Good Friday Agreement.

If the UK stays within the EU Customs Union and/or Single Market then some people may consider that the vote to leave the EU has been ignored. It is a political nightmare for this region and there is a lot of uncertainty over how this is resolved.

Complicating matters, one Northern Irish political party called the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are working in coalition with the UK Conservative party government right now, to secure Brexit.

Although the Northern Irish people voted strongly to stay as part of the EU in the public vote, the political situation is very complex. Now would not be a very sensible time to consider moving to Northern Ireland due to this.

The Scotland Situation

Scotland’s own devolved government is keen to remain as part of the European Union, inspite of the UK wide vote. This is an unlikely outcome at this stage. What we may see however, is Scottish popular opinion swing more towards breaking away from the UK and re-joining the EU, as an independent country.

There was a referendum in 2014 in Scotland, where 45% of people voted to become an independent country, 55% did not support, so this was a very close thing in Scotland and could happen. Right now however, popular opinion for becoming independent has not moved sufficiently for this to happen.

Currently, the most genuinely contentious item Brexit has brought up regarding Scotland, is where the powers that the EU is giving back to the UK after Brexit, will go. The Scottish government think the powers should go to them and the UK wide government think it should go them. If the power goes to the UK wide government, then many people in Scotland will feel this is an attack on the devolved parliament and a step backwards.

Edinburgh Airport Brexit IN SIgn
Edinburgh Airport changed their sign to read ‘IN’ in protest against Brexit

Visas

Visas have existed and will continue to exist for those with Family ties to the UK. I’m sure the working holiday visa agreements between countries like Australia and UK will continue also.

What is likely to change is that people with EU family ties, who come from outside the EU, who could previous apply to live in the UK because of EU family heritage, will no longer be able to.

As business ties grow with the old commonwealth and is relied upon to replace lost European Union business, we may see a whole new stream of visas opening up. I know that Australia and India have expressed interest in obtaining new visas rights in exchange for trade deals, so you may see it become easier to move to the UK from a former commonwealth country in the future.

There has been speculation of an Australian style visa system being introduced to combat skills shortages, like in the NHS. It is expected that immigration will go up, in terms of people from other continents coming to the UK, as a result of Brexit.

Where to Live or Visit

1. London

The capital city of England and the most international city within the UK.

Housing

If you are thinking, like most people do, of heading for London, then think hard about the reality of this option. Living costs are extremely high right now due to limited space. Buying property is very hard for those on modest incomes. It is like New York but without the rent control to keep costs down.

To rent a double room in a shared house of reasonable standard currently costs around 50-60% of your total income, if you are working a minimum wage job full time.

Work

Work wise, long hours are expected in most jobs and generally stress levels are higher in people who live in this area compared to the rest of the country. It just seems to be the culture of London.

Business wise, it is a ultra-capitalist area with lots of banking, finance, insurance sector work. It is a very office based economy. There is a strong creative sector too however and is a large centre for fashion, music, art, film and technology sector jobs.

Attitudes

Londoners generally voted against Brexit with 60% Remain and 40% Leave, as it has a large population of international people and is very open to international culture.

It has a mix of around 60% Labour voters, 30% Conservative and 10% Liberal Democrat.

London Election Result
Credit: Evening Standard

Many modern Londoners are often labelled as ‘Metropolitan Liberal Elite’. This is a term which describes people who have done well out of the globalisation of London and as such are content with it’s place as an international city. They are criticised as sometimes lacking an understanding of what is happening elsewhere in the UK and accused of living in their own bubble.

The Londoners who are pro-Brexit are generally the last few rare Cockeys AKA indigenous Londoners. Lots of Cockneys feel they have been left behind by globalisation and priced out of their own homes by gentrification and globalisation.

The London Verdict

Moving here to work in a skilled industry, like fashion photographer, or digital marketer is probably fine as an idea but moving here to work in a bar or as a barista is not the best. You’ll struggle to make enough money to enjoy your lifestyle.

London is international though and generally welcoming to people of all nations.

2. Other Cities of England & Wales

If you are insistent on living in England or Wales, I would personally recommend cities Bristol, Manchester, Leeds, Cardiff or Liverpool, as more enjoyable, internationally open places to live. I would also say they are better value – in terms of money and culture – than London.

Housing

Most major cities in the UK are like scaled down versions of London, so with slightly reduced rents and a bit less stress in your life. The best value of these cities being Leeds and Liverpool, then Cardiff, then slightly more expensive are Manchester and Bristol.

A double room in a nice shared house in Leeds or Liverpool would start from around 30% of monthly income, if you are earning the UK minimum wage. For the upper end in Bristol or Manchester expect that to rise to around 45% of your monthly income.

Work

You can afford to live in all of these cities on a minimum wage job, so they are more attractive for younger people and unskilled workers.

Manchester has the biggest economy in terms of creative and media jobs but there are some in each of these cities.

Attitudes

Each of these cities has a different feel to it.

Leeds is my favourite English city. It is good value for money and a down to earth place, with lots of great places to go out and have fun. The city has a good arts scene and is the home of the Kaiser Chiefs and Alt-J.

Voters in Leeds narrowly supported remaining part of the EU by 50.3% Remain. I would suggest that Leeds is a city which feels that all the jobs, industry and support goes to London and it has been forgotten by central government. As a result, sometimes immigration gets blamed for declining standards in employment opportunities, which led to such a close voting result.

Manchester is great for culture and edge. The people there have their own spikey attitude and way of doing things. They pride themselves on having a great music culture and is the home of The Smiths, Oasis and Joy Division.

Voters in Manchester strongly supported Remain with 60% of the vote. Manchester is one of the few northern UK cities which has seen lots of economic investment, jobs and opportunities in the last decade, effecting this result.

Bristol is great for liberal values and friendly people. It is the home of cultural icons like Banksy, Massive Attack and Portishead.

Voters in Bristol strongly supported Remain by 62%. As it is in the South West of England, it is in a fairly affluent part of the UK and hasn’t experienced the economic issues that parts of the north of the UK has.

Cardiff is the capital of Wales. I very much enjoy the friendly, down to earth nature of the people. They are hugely passionate about Rugby and singing.

Voters in Cardiff voted to Remain by 60%. The city has had a lot of regeneration projects in the last two decades – some funded by EU grants – so I think people were not feeling as frustrated as voters in towns and cities across the UK which have not been regenerated in recent years.

The Verdict

The Brexit result was driven by high leave votes in England and Wales. Northern Ireland and Scotland both voted to Remain. If you really want to live in England or Wales, I would recommend these cities as the most open to international people and the riches in culture, jobs and lifestyle. I would also recommend these cities above London, due to the cost of living.

3. Scotland

The main two cities for you to consider living in are of course, Edinburgh and Glasgow. They are both quite different but work well together. As they are only an hour apart on the train, you will likely spend time in both.

Housing

Accommodation is more costly in Edinburgh. It is a heavily gentrified city. Long gone are the days of Trainspotting and you can expect to spend around 50% of a minimum wage income on a double bedroom in a shared house.

In Glasgow, the prices are certainly lower. Glasgow is going through a much slower regeneration process than other cities. In that respect it is most similar to Leeds. As a result, expect to spend around 35% of a minimum wage income on a nice double room in a shared house.

Work

Both cities have job opportunities. Edinburgh’s economy is much more focussed around tourism and events. Think the yearly Fringe festival or Hogmanay new years eve event. In terms of culture jobs, it is perhaps better for the writing, theatre and arts industry thanks Glasgow.

Glasgow has a stronger music economy, with most of the music business based here. There are also lots of music venues and if international stars are touring, they are much more likely to come to Glasgow. There are also a strong hospitality and service sector.

Attitudes

Edinburgh is a city which is a little more formal and reserved than Glasgow. In Glasgow the people are very down to earth and what you see is what you get – the city’s motto is ‘People Make Glasgow’. Glasgow is more of a party city with bars and clubs, whereas Edinburgh is a bit fancier.

Both cities voted to Remain in the Brexit referendum. Both cities supported remain by 66% in total. Both cities are proudly pro-immigration and in recent years, many people have developed an attitude of a progressive internationalist view.

The Verdict

Scotland is the most welcoming place for people to migrate to. Although nationalism exists strongly in Scotland, it mainly only manifests as xenophobia towards the English. That ugly trait aside, the Scots are a very internationalist people and as such are very welcoming of migrants.

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