An Italian woman has revealed why she and her British boyfriend decided to move to Florence, despite the fact that this may mean saying goodbye to the UK forever.
In a personal dive into how Brexit has put her life on hold and deeply affected her mental health, Elisa told The London Economic that she could have stayed in the UK until summer 2022 to get settled status under Britain’s EU Settlement Scheme. However, she decided not to wait any longer because she has been “fighting hard” to be in a country where what she does is “not appreciated”.
This is despite the fact that her British boyfriend obtained a job in Florence before Brexit came in force on 1st January this year, to take advantage of his freedom of movement – so if they ever wanted to move back to the UK, the couple may not be able to due to Elisa’s lack of settled status – but her boyfriend is currently convinced he would not want to ever come back to Britain, because he “really hates what is happening in the country”.
‘Exhausting’ back and forth just to get the government’s settled status
Elisa, who has been a public library worker and is also trained as a teacher, spoke of the humiliation she felt by the EU Settlement Scheme, and the fact that she is classed by the government as “unskilled”, as someone who has only worked in customer service and who never earned over £19,000 a year.
When Elisa quit her public library job in Britain earlier this year to help her boyfriend move to Florence to train as an English teacher, she did so with the thought of moving back to Italy in mind.
But as her boyfriend had moved to Florence to start a new job in June, Elisa could not afford living in their Cambridge flat on her own, so she was welcomed by some friends in Scotland, while waiting for months to pass in order to obtain settled status.
But after a year of being away from her boyfriend, Elisa now gradually lost all motivation to remain in the UK in the pursuit of Settled Status.
She said: “I realised it’s such a long time, I’m so tired of being hosted by other people and going back and forth and not being with my boyfriend.”
When she was in Florence this summer, Elisa was contacted by her dream company, who offered her a job starting at the beginning of next year.
Last week, when she started organising her flights back to the UK, she became torn at the prospect of staying only four more months in the UK before she could take the job offer in Italy – or waiting for another eight months in the UK to be able to apply for Settled Status.
She said: “I was so stressed that basically I spent the whole weekend crying, and then I realised, why am I doing all of this, is it really worth it? I am coming back until the end of November to sort out everything I need to, but I really don’t see the point in trying anymore.
“I am passing on so many opportunities I could have in Italy, and for what, just be allowed to go back to a country that’s been hostile, and that’s not even doing very well right now.
“I was doing all of this because I have lived in the UK for over four years, and I have grown to love it, and it’s my boyfriend’s country so I always thought, if he ever wants to move back in the future, I don’t want to be an obstacle, I want to be able to go with him.”
British boyfriend ‘never wants to come back’ to the UK
But her boyfriend told her he did not know if he ever wanted to move back to the UK, and that right now, he “certainly doesn’t”. “He said ‘I definitely don’t want to go back now, I definitely don’t want to go back for the next few years. And I might never want to go back for the rest of my life, because I really hate what is going on in my country,” Elisa recalled.
Her boyfriend, who is a software engineer, did not take long to find a job in Italy with a “really big company” in November 2020, according to Elisa.
But although he received the offer before Brexit came into force at the beginning of this year, his employers had to start a visa process for him.
She said: “The employers realised he is British and soon Brexit would be a thing and that even if he dropped everything at once, he was not going to get there in time for him to be considered officially resident in Italy because of the beginning of Brexit.
“He was lucky he found a job with such a big company, because they were able to hire some consultants specifically for this case, and they worked for him to get him a visa.
“He had it pretty easy compared to other people who don’t have all this kind of support, and they helped pay for the visa as well. Had it been a smaller company, they probably would have withdrawn the job offer or they would have asked my boyfriend to deal with all of this himself.”
Despite this, the couple is still anxious about his Italian residency potentially not being approved, which could mean he may not be able to continue working in Italy in the future.
I won’t get settled status, four years in the UK amount to nothing
Since November last year, Elisa has been under a “constant state of anxiety” – first when her boyfriend had to jump through Brexit hoops to be able to take his job in Italy and move there, and then when she had to take the “really hard decision” which she thinks “might mean ‘goodbye’ to the UK forever”.
She said moving back to Italy before she hits the five-year threshold required for settled status means she will probably not receive the status.
But it was not meant to be this way. During the 2016 EU referendum campaign, Boris Johnson, Priti Patel and Michael Gove put their names to a statement that said “there will be no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK and EU citizens will automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK, and will be treated no less favourably than they are at the present”.
Elisa thinks the existence of the EU settlement scheme in the UK and the complicated difference between pre-settled and settled status shows that promise has not been kept.
She thought applying for pre-settled status was “diminishing” and “humiliating”: “They know what I have been doing for the past years, they have my records, they know I paid my taxes. And I pretty much have to beg them to let me stay.”
And now she feels like she is “putting her life on hold just for the sake of settled status.”
“I lived and paid taxes in the UK for four years, I feel like what I have done in the UK in the last four years amounts to nothing.
“I got to a point where I thought, why do I have to fight so hard to be in a country where I don’t even feel that what I do is appreciated?”
The couple looked into options for her should they ever want to return to the UK without Elisa having settled status, and are expecting to either spend around £7,000 on a family visa or apply for a shortages worker visa as a teacher.
‘Unskilled’ in the UK, ‘sought-after’ in Italy
But although she has a teaching degree, a degree in French and thinks the UK needs French teachers, she fears she would have to earn a certain amount of money to be allowed to come to Britain and be offered a job from an employer “approved” by the government.
She only held customer service positions while working in the UK and never earned over £19,000 a year, so she fears she could be classed by the government as an “unskilled worker”.
“That is why I don’t have much hope of getting a visa, and why at first I was really determined to try and get settled status,” she said.
She added: “It was such as smack in the face when the government mentioned that they were going to skilled workers to get visas. Skilled workers are pretty much workers who earn more than £20,000 a year. And I have never earned that kind of money, so that was very offensive to me.
“To hear my work labelled as unskilled and non-essential when I worked in the public library and had a really rough year and a half during the pandemic, and we were pretty much frontline workers and worked really hard to keep the services of the library going… We had so many people coming in, saying that the library was a lifeline and they didn’t know what they would do without it.”
Meanwhile, she has been longing to join her boyfriend in Italy and thinking about the life and career she could create for herself there. “Going back to Italy after living for four years in the UK, I am much more sought after than I was before and I think I could get some good opportunities here now,” she said.
Elisa thinks other people in the UK should put themselves in her shoes, and asked everyone to imagine being in her situation.
“I like so many things about my boyfriend’s culture, his sense of humour, he taught me about the way he grew up, the things he liked as a child, and quirks of the country. I have appreciated that so much and he has appreciated getting to know a different culture from a closer source because you can say you travelled to Italy and learned this or that, but the way you become intimate with a different culture when you learn about it through a relationship, it’s just a different level. Being with him really helps me absorb the local culture, so much so that a few days ago, as a joke, we both took a test for British citizenship and I passed and he didn’t.
“I would ask people to picture going to a country they have idolised since they were children – because, as a kid, I even had a UK corner in my bedroom with all the posters and postcards and memorabilia from whenever I travelled to the UK, because I loved the country, the culture and the language so much.
“And you go there thinking you want to try a different culture, you want to get to know it, you would finally experience this country you have daydreamed about since forever and you go with the best intentions, you want to work, you want to prove yourself, you want to make something of yourself, and you feel like you have done that.
“You have enriched the country, you have made friends, you have absorbed the culture, and suddenly, the country revolts against you, with no warning, for no apparent reason. You feel like you don’t belong anymore. You don’t belong anywhere, because you don’t live in your country of origin anymore.
“And your partner decides he also dreams of going abroad and experiencing a new culture, and you want to be there for him but at the same time we are torn because it’s either I go with him and we do a new life together, or I stay here, otherwise I might lose everything I did here.”