The view from Bucharest: Brexit fears for Romanian expatriates

On the streets of Romania’s capital, fear and disbelief over Brexit as concern grows for migrants and UK-bound students.

Student Adelina Budulan says she sees Brexit as a 'chaotic mess'  [Courtesy: Adelina Budulan]
Student Adelina Budulan says she sees Brexit as a 'chaotic mess' [Courtesy: Adelina Budulan]

Bucharest, Romania – Romanians represent the second-most-common non-British nationality in the United Kingdom after Polish, according to the figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) from 2017.

Currently, there are more Romanians living in the UK than there are Irish nationals or Indians.

Romania joined the European Union in 2007, but it was only in 2014 that restrictions on Romanians’ rights to work in the UK were lifted.

Al Jazeera spoke to several Romanians – and one Briton – in Bucharest about Brexit.

‘My generation grew up so used to the idea of Europe as a community’

Adelina Budulan, 18, high school student

I currently have an offer to study law at UCL, provided I meet the grade requirements.

“When I made the decision of applying to a UK university, Brexit was in somewhat of a tamer state, at least compared to the present situation. Nevertheless, whenever I brought up my academic plans, I would get concerned, almost frightened looks from people who feared the big bad Brexit because of what they had heard on the news. 

Personally, I see Brexit as a chaotic mess and I am probably not the only one.

Adelina Budulan, student

“I was reasonably informed about the process and I still decided that I wanted to receive [an] education from a world-renowned institution, especially given the fact that it was never my intention to actually move to the UK after finishing my studies. 

“To be completely honest, my main concern was whether or not I would still be eligible for a government loan. 

“I think that what will affect people like me going to study in the UK most is the fact that there is still so much uncertainty about the future. My generation grew up so used to the idea of Europe as a community, as an entity in itself, [so] something like Brexit will invariably provoke some sort of a shock in our lives. 

“Personally, I see Brexit as a chaotic mess and I am probably not the only one. I could have chosen to express my views in a more eloquent manner so as to give the impression that I profoundly understand what is happening and anticipate the consequences, but the truth is that I don’t. And I don’t think anybody truly does. My guess is that I will be as taken aback by the outcome of Brexit as the people actually handling it.” 

Brexit was a stupid idea’

Augustin Emil Barbulescu, 47, entrepreneur

Getting a job in Britain could become harder after Brexit, says Augustin Emil Barbulescu [Lorelei Mihala/Al Jazeera]

I think that Brexit was a stupid idea. 

“It will affect the Romanians who are already there, it will affect the right to work, they will find [getting] jobs harder.” 

‘They have had enough of us’

Florin Goaima, 28, Taxify driver

Florin Goaima says Romania would be ‘left behind’ without the EU [Lorelei Mihala/Al Jazeera]

I think they voted to leave because they have had enough of us because not all of the Romanians going there are hard working. There are people who go just to do bad things. 

“There are advantages being in the EU … Without the EU, we would be totally left behind.”

‘It will cost them a lot’

Eugen Ghinescu, 49, head of logistics at a supermarket chain

Eugen Ghinescu believes Britain will have a high bill to pay for leaving the EU [Lorelei Mihala/Al Jazeera]

It will cost them a lot to leave the European Union … there will be customs duties.  

“I think the European Union brings benefits as well as disadvantages because they impose certain rules that you have to respect. 

“We don’t benefit from all the advantages, because we don’t spend European funds. Because politicians can’t steal from this money, they are not interested to apply for these funds.” 

‘Absolutely irrational what is happening now in the British parliament’

Miruna Troncota, lecturer in international relations

Miruna Troncota says Brexit has strengthened a sense of unity among other European countries [Courtesy: Miruna Troncota]

The choice of a majority in a referendum must be respected, even if we don’t like that choice. These are the principles of a democratic majority. 

“I see a lot of hate speech around British citizens who want more sovereignty.

I think Brexit has an emotional approach and [less often] a rational one. Paradoxically, I feel that this creates more ties between the member states, they are defending European unity, which you don’t see too often. 

“We are now in a no-exit situation. A disorderly Brexit – without a deal – or giving up Brexit, remains an option, but this decision can’t be taken without a referendum.

“A no-deal Brexit could threaten the status of European citizens, and therefore of Romanian citizens, from the UK. 

“The no-deal scenario is a lose-lose situation. Usually, negotiation is based on the win-win principle. This is why it is absolutely irrational what is happening now in the British parliament.”

‘Concern that students will not be able to work in the UK after they graduate’

Simon Parker, 52, a British citizen, has been living in Romania since 2003. He runs a university admissions consultancy business for Romanian students who want to study at UK universities.

Simon Parker, a British resident in Bucharest, is worried for Romanian students in Britain but does not think his life will change after Brexit [Courtesy: Simon Parker]

“So far, the impact of Brexit has been mixed. In terms of the number of students and families approaching us for guidance, we’re actually about 10 percent up on last year.

“However, a higher percentage are applying to other EU countries as well, especially Holland, as a back-up. There is also more interest in studying in the USA. 

“The major fears are that the student loan will no longer be available for Romanian students and that tuition fees will rise. There is also the concern that they will not be able to work in the UK after they graduate. 

“The student loan has allowed a significant number of highly able students from lower- and middle-income Romanian families to study at world-class universities. 

“From the other side, my former clients and their parents spend over £3m each year in the UK on food, accommodation and general living expenses. 

“As a long term resident in Romania, my future in this country is obviously dependent on the UK’s negotiations with both the EU and individual EU states. The Romanian government, rightly, in my opinion, is delaying making any announcements about the long-term status of British citizens in Romania until the British government can guarantee the rights of the estimated 410,000 Romanians currently living in the UK.

“In the event of a no-deal Brexit, I know that my permanent resident ID card will become invalid and I will need to re-apply for my residency. To be honest, I can’t see this happening and I would expect that not that much will change for myself and the other Brits who have made Romania their home.”

Source: Al Jazeera

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