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Expat or immigrant? How South Africans in UK see themselves

Jul 17 2016 10:22
Lameez Omarjee

Johannesburg – Immigration trends to the United Kingdom (UK) following Brexit remain uncertain, until there is clarity about the UK’s trading position with the European Union (EU) and if it contains its Freedom of Movement policy.

This is according to Lindsey Barras, a Director at PwC Legal, UK. “It is expected that immigration flows from the EU will decrease.” Overall there is still an understanding that both high and low skilled labour is needed, although the focus is likely to be on higher skilled individuals, explained Barras.

The 2011 census shows that there was just under 200 000 South Africans living in the UK.

Increased migration

“There is no immediate reason why this should decline as South Africans are not specifically impacted by any potential Brexit related immigration changes,” explained Barras. This may change, however if the UK economy does slow due to Brexit.

There is some concern regarding people leaving the UK. “People have expressed unease but to date we are not seeing significant movement in this area.”

If the UK ends Freedom of Movement (the right to migrate between EU countries) it may shift its immigration focus towards Commonwealth countries, like South Africa, to encourage increased migration, according to Barras.

Immigration levels to the UK haven't changed and likely won't change until Article 50 is triggered. It's still unclear when that will happen, but the UK's new minister for negotiation exit from the EU David Davis has said he wants it to happen this year, according to Regan McMillan, director of Kiwi Movers, an international removals firm based in London.

Similar culture

A recent study by Kiwi Movers revealed that 71% of expats living in the UK don’t view themselves as immigrants. The study was conducted on 500 New Zealand, Australian, American, Canadian and South African expats living in the UK.

Those who identified as immigrants most were South Africans (29%), followed by Canadians (22%), Americans (20%), New Zealanders (15%) and Australians (14%).

The study shows that more than a third of respondents referred to themselves as expats because of their temporary residential status in the UK. However, 1 in 5 (19%) said it was because the UK had a similar culture to their home country.

Others (18%) said that they considered themselves not to be expats because they were native English speakers. And 1% of those identifying most closely with the “expat” label said it was because they live and work in a foreign country.

McMillan, who hails from Invercargill in New Zealand, believes the term expat insulates English-speaking, predominantly white foreigners living in the UK from the challenges faced by immigrants from countries with differing home cultures.

“I typically refer to myself as an expat rather than an immigrant, but rhetoric used during the EU referendum made me reconsider this. The term expat has a tone of privilege to it that may unfairly elevate us above others who’ve moved here to work.

"By definition we’re immigrants as well as expats. But it’s rare to hear Kiwis, Australians, Canadians or South Africans being referred to this way.

"There’s a strong ‘expat’ community in London and that’s a great thing. Australians, Kiwis, South Africans seem to naturally come together and form strong social groups. It makes sense. We’ve got a lot in common culturally.

"Some of the EU referendum rhetoric focused on immigrants. But not on expats. I personally didn’t feel stigmatised or marginalised by this, even though friends of mine who are Polish and Latvian definitely did, but only because I consider myself an expat.”

For more information on the study, click here.

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uk  |  south africa  |  immigration  |  brexit  |  sa economy
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