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What Happens to Foreigners in Britain Now?

27/06/2016 14:11 | Updated 27 June 2016

Friday morning has been an historical date and a sad one at the same time, for me and for the other 600,000 Italians currently living in the UK. Obviously none of us were allowed to vote for Remain or Leave.

Words cannot express fully the thoughts and doubts in my mind right now, so let's start from the beginning.

London alone accounts for a quarter of a million Italians residing there, making London the 13th largest Italian city (the equivalent of the same population of Venice). That's how much the Italians love Britain. And I am one of them.

I was born in Milan, 44 years ago. I lived over there until 1993, when I permanently moved to the UK, where I spent a year at Nottingham Trent University finishing my Degree. The irony of all, the degree course was called "European Business Studies". How so poignant thinking of that course name today.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, I am still here. Why? Because I love Britain, I love all quintessential British things: fish and chips, Sunday roasts, Pimm's and Wimbledon, gardening, barbecues in the rain, country pubs, even the British way of queueing (and that says a lot coming from an Italian).

I own a British house. I have a British driving licence (as I had to change it from the Italian one after so many years of residing here). I understand perfectly well how to count weight in pounds and stones. I am not fazed by people's height in feet or counting miles on a motorway. More than anything, I love the famous British sense of humour and irony, its literature, the movies, the music as well as the business ethics and diplomacy.

Half British, half what?

My little boy of four and a half, who I am raising bilingual, is British and obviously holds a British passport. When he was only two years old, we were stopped at international airports because he is fair haired, green eyes and fair skin (his father is Scottish), whilst I am the stereotypical Italian: dark hair, olive skin. Having different surnames and different passports did not help at border control. I was questioned a few times and asked if I was his mother, both in the UK and in Italy. I had to start carrying the original birth certificate with me, just in case I was stopped again. I found this amusing back then. Now I'm terrified.

Although at an early stage, my son shows already big signs of interest towards art, drawing, colouring and 'creating' things. It may come from the fact I am very creative in terms of crafts and painting, and so is his dad who is an accomplished architect. For the past couple of years, I've been saying: "Wouldn't it be lovely if one day he decides he'd like to go and study architecture in Florence?". What am I supposed to say now? Will he need a Visa to enter his mother's birth country? Will he need special papers and documents to enter an Italian University? All I can see is bureaucracy and heartache.

How do I feel now?

I feel cheated that I was not allowed to vote after I've been living in the UK for half of my life. I feel cheated that I was not granted the right to vote to protect my son's future. Long after I'm gone, what will he think of me? Will he say 'My mum was Italian', like if Italy was this so very distant, diverse and foreign place. Will I be seen as a foreigner in the eyes of my own son?

Togetherness

Being part of the European community gave me (please note past tense used here) a great sense of 'better belonging'. Italy and Britain: two great beautiful countries where I feel at home in both places. How many people could truly say that? I know I can. I land in Milan and say "I'm home". I arrive back in Britain and I say to myself "Here I am, finally at home".

I feel deflated that such a big decision was won by a marginal percentage. A percentage which is now in charge of directing my future, the future of my son and young generations in Britain.

My family and friends back in Italy have been calling me since Friday and sending me concerned messages on social media. They are disappointed, they are shocked and they are of course worried for me.

A friend's message states: "Britain as a country has certainly given a lot to Europe, but it has also received a lot. This is a sign of no democracy and a sign for major devastating repercussions to come". All Italian newspapers, TV channels and social media channels are talking about it and will do so for months from now.

My connections in Italy

My parents who are in Milan are getting older and the need to be able to get on a plane easily without breaking the bank in terms of flying costs, will increase dramatically for me. How am I supposed to deal with that? Will I need a Visa every time I need to spend two hours on a plane to go and visit them? Costs and bureaucracy, again.

What next?

I am deeply worried about my own personal circumstances. Will I need to apply for a Visa to remain in my current job, which I love and adore? Will I need to pay for the NHS in future? No matter what some people may think of it, the NHS has served its very good purposes to all of us until now.

Will I be able to buy another house in the future if I decide to leave my current property? Will banks give me a mortgage? I am Italian by nationality, British by adoption and European by culture. So what defines me now? Have I become an immigrant over night? I suppose, sadly, only time will tell.

In the meantime, I suggest we start stocking up on as many foreign/European delicatessen products as possible, because I have the feeling a slice of Parma ham may cost us in the future the same as a three course meal in a top British restaurant.
So many questions I am asking, so far so many unanswered.

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