There are approximately 1.2 million UK nationals living in other EU countries, with the lions share living in Spain (an estimated 310,000) with the majority living in the coastal areas. The demographics and geography of our expats are that whilst Barcelona for instance host the younger working expat population, the Costas (Costa Blanca and the Costa del Sol) tend to be the places most populated by retirees who like the close proximity to the UK when it comes to their ability to visit family and vice versa.
Concerns over migration have formed a massive part of the BREXIT campaign, leaving many UK nationals living in other EU countries feeling very vulnerable.
CHANGE – UNCHARTERED TERRITORY FOR EXPATS
I’m sure that we can all relate to how uncomfortable change feels, even in situations where we know that change is necessary and will be of benefit to us. But how does that translate for us as expats when we don’t know whether the change will be good or bad long term?
Following the BREXIT vote we are expected to follow along, with stress levels probably increasing as control of our own lives feels to be decreasing. Research by Covello (1991) and others has found that people under stress, those who feel threatened or put at risk by some force beyond their control, experience “mental noise” that can cause them to lose up to 80 percent of their ability to process information. Furthermore, the remaining 20 percent of processing capacity most often will be focused on issues of high personal concern to us individually, rather than on issues deemed important by politicians. This would explain why our responses to information sometimes seem irrational.
SHARING ACCURATE INFORMATION
As always there are those who seem to seize the opportunity to ‘declare’ that they have all the answers and full knowledge of how BREXIT will impact our expat community. However, we feel that the sharing of accurate information is much more important.
FACTS – WHAT WE KNOW
The House of Commons has scrapped a House of Lords bid to write a commitment to EU nationals living in the UK into Law by dumping the peers’ proposed amendment to the Article 50 Bill.
Prime Minister May has been keen to secure a commitment from EU member states over the rights of UK nationals currently living on the continent post Brexit and has been adamant that she cannot offer a similar guarantee for EU nationals in the UK until those protections for British expats are also in place.
Spain has backed “in principle” a common agreement for EU and UK nationals living abroad. The country’s EU secretary Jorge Toledo, who will lead Madrid’s negotiations over Brexit said “We are broadly in favour of retaining a reciprocal agreement on questions like healthcare and freedom of movement”.
“As regards the rights of EU citizens in the UK and the rights of UK citizens in the EU, Spain is in favour of the amplest respect of these rights in the future but the modalities and conditions will and should be a matter of negotiation.”
COMMUNICATION IS KEY – HELPING OUR EXPAT COMMUNITY THROUGH THE CHANGE
Face to face communication is crucial. ‘To achieve more successful outcomes during periods of change, we must focus on low-tech communication, especially face-to-face dialogue about high concern issues in order to overcome mental noise.’ (Joseph G. Wojtecki, 2000). Roughly translated this means that communication really is key in order to help ease our expat community through this change.