Maria Philburn’s parents spoke no English and had no qualifications when they came to Britain in the 1950s.
Her mum, who is Italian, had responded to calls for labourers in the mills of Yorkshire while her Ukrainian dad – a “displaced person” after the war – came under the European Voluntary Workers Scheme and went into farming.
“They worked extremely hard in low-paid jobs,” Maria told HuffPost UK. “They became valued members of our very English neighbourhood and used to help elderly people with chores, especially those who didn’t have any children.
“Our English next-door neighbour became part of our family after she was widowed and spent Friday evenings and some Christmas Days with us.
“When our next door neighbour got cancer and became very ill, we cared for her. Mum would sit with her trying to encourage her to eat.
“These are all things we did as neighbours and friends for free. These are now things that would be worthless. Those same neighbours admitted they were dreading us moving in.
“You can’t get points for things like this.”
Freedom of movement with the European Union ended on December 31, 2020. EU citizens now need a visa in advance if they want to work here, and employers need a sponsor licence to hire people from other countries.
But with minimum salary thresholds and the requirement that people already speak English and meet certain skills levels, many like Maria’s parents would likely have been excluded.
Frederika Roberts has German and Italian heritage, and has always appreciated the value of different cultures.
She grew up in Luxembourg, but ended up coming to the UK in 1990 for university – an opportunity she didn’t have back home. “I spoke lots of languages and had the pick of Europe,” she told HuffPost UK. “I chose the UK because it had a great reputation for its universities.”
She studied business and management at the University of Bradford and had initially anticipated returning to Luxembourg or going to Italy after graduating. But in her first year of university, she met her husband Simon and admits “falling in love with him and Yorkshire” and making the UK her home.
“It is likely it wouldn’t have been possible for me to stay in the UK if they had had this points-based [system] then as I did not have a job straight after graduating,” she said.
“I wouldn’t have accumulated many points based on what they are looking for now. Even after I finished my teaching degree, it took a few months to get a job and I didn’t work as a teacher until a few years later.
“I don’t think I would have been able to stay. I don’t know what that would have done to mine and Simon’s relationship.”
As well as working as a teacher, Frederika – now 49 and living in Doncaster –spent many years in recruitment and co-owned a recruitment business.
She is a speaker, lecturer, trainer and author who does wellbeing work in schools.
“I think I have contributed quite a bit to society,” she said. “It is really awful that we are being reduced to this kind of argument and being forced to prove we are the ‘good immigrant’ and the notion that we are only as good as our economic worth.”
Frederika argues that British society would be completely different and a lot poorer in relationships, culture and experience without immigration.
“There are so many families, communities and relationships which wouldn’t exist without immigration,” she said. “British food without immigration would be pretty dire. From going out for curry to having a pizza, the range of food we have is phenomenal – and that’s only because of immigration.”
Frederika and Simon have two daughters – Charlie, 23 and Hannah, 21. Charlie graduated with a dual honours degree in Middle Eastern studies and politics and now works for an MP helping constituents. Hannah is in the third year of a degree in medicine with European studies and is recovering from long Covid.
If Frederika hadn’t stayed in Britain, not only would society have missed out on her contribution – it would have lost out on her daughters’ skills.
“I find it very upsetting that this country I have lived in and loved for so long is becoming so insular and narrow-minded,” she said.
“All the talk about low skills and low-paid labour is wrong. Low-skilled and low- paid are not the same thing. Care workers, nurses and physiotherapists are not low-skilled jobs but they are below the income threshold. These roles aren’t going to get magically filled if people who now might not meet the threshold don’t come over.”
She added: “I feel completely rejected by this country. If I did not have my family here, I would be out like a shot even though I love it here.”
Joan Pons Laplana has a raft of awards for his nursing – with the most prestigious being named Nurse of The Year in 2018 by the British Journal of Nurses.
He came to the UK from Spain in November 2000 in the midst of a recruitment crisis for the profession.
He says he was made to feel very welcome and loved England deeply at first.
But Joan, 46, who lives in Chesterfield, North Derbyshire, said: “With austerity and the economic crisis, a lot of people started blaming immigrants and accusing them of stealing jobs from British nurses.
“There are 43,000 nursing vacancies in the UK at the moment. England has never managed to create as many nurses as they needed and that’s why they had to get them in from other countries.”
Nursing jobs in Spain were difficult to find, and after three years of temporary work – topped up by delivering pizzas – he saw an advert calling for nurses to travel to Britain. It was an easy decision to leave.
“Growing up, I had always admired the English culture and loved TV programmes such as Blackadder and Fawlty Towers,” he said. “I also saw it as a very open country where all sorts of cultures could live together.”
Joan began working as an intensive care nurse in Sheffield. He had only planned to stay for a year or two but fell in love, got married and went on to have three children.
He still works at Sheffield Teaching Hospital and is now senior charge nurse for the digital department.
But he says if the new immigration rules had been in place 21 years ago, he would have gone elsewhere.
“After 22 years of living here, I feel I need to justify my existence in this country, even though I came to help plug the nursing shortage,” he said.
What’s more, Joan says, the nursing crisis hasn’t gone away.
“It is becoming more and more difficult to guarantee safety for patients because of all the unfilled nursing vacancies,” he said. “My passion is to deliver the best care possible for patients, but my mental health is suffering because it is much harder to do this.
“We need more nurses and these new immigration rules are not going to help. I still love England but Brexit and the government have created a platform which is allowing people to express their racism openly.
“It is time to stop this propaganda that migration is bad for the country. Migrants are not the cause of the problems and the idea that immigrants come here to do nothing is not true.”
Joan worked in intensive care during both waves of the virus, as well as taking part in a vaccine trial.
He says the new immigration rules mean the NHS has more or less “abandoned” recruiting from Europe, instead turning to the Philippines, India and Commonwealth countries.
“The problem is that each nurse from one of these countries costs around £10,000 to bring over, but a nurse coming from Europe was free,” he said. “This has added another burden to the problem. That money could be spent on so many other things needed in the NHS.
“Even though they have relaxed the immigration rules, things are still more difficult than they were when we were in Europe.”
Repeating the language of the Brexit campaign, a Home Office spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “The British people voted to take back control of our borders and end free movement – that is exactly what this government has delivered.
“As the UK builds back stronger from the pandemic, employers must prioritise training and investing in our domestic workforce, rather than relying on international labour.
“However, in roles where specialised or additional skills are required, our points-based immigration system enables employers to attract the best and brightest talent from around the world, based on what they have to offer.”
Meanwhile, Maria Philburn – who would likely never have been born in the UK had the new immigration rules been in place during the 1950s – worked in banking for many years and still works full-time.
She now has two grown-up children of her own.
Of immigrants’ unfathomable contribution to Britain during the pandemic, she added: “Coronavirus highlighted what things would have been like if we did not have these workers from other countries allowed here.
“But that all pales into insignificance and is unappreciated. It feels like the government thinks immigrants are only OK when they need people.”