Uncertain EU Borders: What does the future hold for women?

On International Women’s Day 2017, the team at Screaming Violets would like to draw attention to the lives of women who are citizens of EU and non-EU states, as well as women in the north of Ireland, home to the UK’s only land border, in the year ahead. We would like to do this by inviting women to share their experience of borders, in the run up to article 50 being triggered.

Theresa May’s government is refusing to guarantee the rights of EU citizens to stay in the UK after Brexit, instead using their precarious status as a bargaining chip for further negotiations with the EU. Women who have lived and worked in the UK, for more than 5 years, can apply for citizenship, but there are obstacles. EU nationals have to fill in a complex 85 page document to apply for permanent residency (PR) and prove they have not only lived in the UK for more than 5 years, but have also been economically active in the labour market. This measure was introduced in 2015, in the run up to the referendum.

Only those who can afford to pay the PR fee of £65 and the hefty cost of applying for citizenship, have some chance of securing their future in the UK at this time. Anyone who cannot afford to pay the premiums or have not accrued enough hours on the clock, face uncertain futures, including potentially being forced to leave the country or face deportation.

Women who have brought up families in the UK are not safe. They do not automatically qualify for citizenship, as a result of a blanket 2004 EU directive, designed to prevent ‘benefit tourism’. It is designed to prevent people who are EU nationals, but do not pay towards national insurance, from claiming benefits and using the NHS, even though the latter is paid for by direct taxation. It is a policy which indirectly discriminates against women, who are the primary carers of children and other family members and was implemented in response to a number of former Eastern Bloc countries joining the EU.

This measure affected Jet Cooper, a Dutch woman, who has been resident in the UK for 30 years, and was told by the Home Office that she may not be entitled to live in the UK, because she has not accrued enough hours in the labour market, thus hasn’t contributed enough towards national insurance. She has brought up 3 children, who have all grown up and she lives in the family home with her husband. She now faces an uncertain future.

EU women do not even have the option of being sponsored to live with their spouse, a controversial measure introduced in 2012, requiring a UK citizen to earn over a minimum threshold before allowing their third country national partner to settle in the UK – £18600 for a partner, £3800 for the first child and £2400 for every additional child.

If we close down our borders to EU nationals, we will effectively be discriminating against women. The employment rate for EU national women is 73% compared to 84.6% for men and the difference in economic activity between the genders, is because women are less likely to work when they have dependent children (https://select-statistics.co.uk/blog/eu-migrants-represented-across-uk-workforce/). If women have not earned enough money over the period of time they have been in the country, even if they have been resident in the UK for decades, they cannot apply for permanent residency, the prerequisite for applying for citizenship.

A referendum driven by a racist narrative, where UKIP and the right in the Tory party, led the campaign by blaming immigrants, particularly Polish and Romanian nationals, for a lack of jobs, will result in policies attacking the current rights and freedoms of EU nationals and women’s contributions to the UK evidently do not matter to those responsible for such discriminatory policies in the first place.

Also ignored by the Brexit campaign were the people in the north of Ireland, the only British-controlled territory that has a land border with another EU state. Although the vast majority of those who voted in the referendum there supported Remain, Theresa May has made it clear that she intends to override the Stormont veto guaranteed by the Good Friday Agreement to impose Brexit on the population there. With Brexit comes the threat that Ireland will once again be divided by a ‘hard border’, which would have a severe impact on the lives of millions of people living on both sides of it. Though the Westminster government has thus far denied any intention to impose such a border, this has not stopped them sending surveying teams to work out where they might put it.

When Theresa May was the Home Secretary, she was vehemently against search and rescue operations on the Mediterranean in 2014, which would have saved thousands of lives, instead opting for a reduced operation of border security. With May in the driving seat, she has a proven record of throwing immigrants under the bus and drowning them at sea. She is responsible for tearing families apart because minimum sponsorship thresholds mean that those who do not earn enough money, cannot live with their partner in the UK. This is the woman in charge of triggering article 50, someone with a proven track record of implementing policies which discriminate against women and has complete disregard for the lives of migrant workers.

We at Screaming Violets are interested in how Brexit will affect the lives of ordinary working class women. It is of particular interest to us to give a platform to women who experience borders; whether that is having to pay thousands of pounds to apply for citizenship, in a country you have worked and paid your taxes in, to secure your future and investment in the UK, whether you are bombarded with questions every time you enter the UK, or whether you are facing the prospect of needing to bring your passport just to visit the next town.

We would like to hear from women who experience borders at every level, so you could be on a working or student visa, a partner of a UK citizen whose status in the UK is precarious, an EU citizen worried about your own future or the future of friends in your communities.

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