I came to the UK 25 years ago, recruited by the government for my language skills, on a very low wage, especially for London.
I came because I liked the opportunity of living in another EU country for a few years. I am Dutch and had previously lived, worked and studied in Italy. I came because of freedom of movement. In my view, I was only moving to a different province of Europe, not a different country!
Like moving from London to say Wakefield, for a better job. Better jobs don’t necessarily equate higher paid jobs! I earnt more in the Netherlands, contracting myself out to the EU as a translator and interpreter.
Moving to the UK offered great opportunities as I went on to run an international art dealership for 19 years. Then my business partner retired and I decided to give something back to the country that gave me so much.
I set up freelance, designing and teaching and fundraising for print making and horticultural workshops for people living with cognitive disabilities. I earn very little, but enough for me. Sadly not enough for the Home Office as I was refused PR in 2017 on the grounds of my income being ”not genuine or effective”.
I have as of yet to apply for Settled Status and I am dragging my heels. I do not want to live in a non-EU country! I didn’t move to the country I now live in. I moved to a country that was open, welcoming, liberal.
I may yet leave as the hostile environment is driving me out. Even though I own my own home and have a medicinal garden that is just coming to the point of harvesting so I can make herbal medicine. But do I want to? My market has been reduced to just one country instead of 28.
I am being treated like a pariah. I am having to prove I have the right to work, run a business as an EU citizen. I have had to dissolve the Community Interest Company that ran the workshops, as with the end of freedom of movement the end of freedom of movement of services also ends so we won’t be able to run small businesses or work freelance providing services.
It is heart breaking both for me and the British people living with dementia. Twentyfive years of net contributions and that is without my unquantifiable contributions to this country seemingly count for nothing. I gave my best years. I am supposed to be semi-retired and live a stress free life. The opposite has become true since the referendum.
I have lived In Limbo for nearly four years now. I no longer feel welcome, appreciated, ”one of us”. Instead I am being treated like a criminal, having to prove I have the right to live in my own home of 25 years. I am being treated like a criminal by the British around me. As if I have stolen something from them and they need it back…
I worked hard, very hard for my little house and garden, my business. I was never given anything. It does not feel right. It feels wrong to have to apply for Settled Status. To give away very sensitive, private information to be shared with everyone. To not have the right to appeal. To not have the right to know what information the Home Office holds on you and bases their decision on. It is very wrong to have to apply in the first place. It should be a simple registration of those legally present in the UK before Brexit.
I rather leave, sell up, start again elsewhere at my age in a country I have never lived in before as this, MY country, the country where I bought a burial plot as I thought I would live and die here, has become unrecognisable.
It is no longer my country. ©
Hanneke van der Werf, Dutch, in the UK since 1995
First published 25. February 2020
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