Young, low-income Brits face a dead end.

Whatever one’s thoughts on Brexit, or on the European Union more broadly, one thing is crystal clear: Brexit has dramatically reduced our rights when it comes to living and working abroad within the EU.

From lucky to tail end

I have personally experienced both sides of this post-Brexit outcome. Just months after the Brexit referendum, I was one of the lucky ones who managed to participate in an Erasmus exchange programme. Back then I still enjoyed the rights of an EU citizen. I was able to live and study in another EU country without the need for visas, paperwork or additional costs. I also had a €350 a month grant from the European Commission and reduced tuition fees — money without which I certainly would not have been able to afford such an experience.

Now I find myself at the tail end of a long, complicated and expensive visa process to work in another EU country. Before the transition was seamless, now I feel that I have to jump through fiery hoops just to be able to work the job I’ve already been offered.

The process so far has cost me at least £600 and counting, as well as a month’s worth of pay that I’ve missed out on thanks to the various delays encountered on my journey to get a visa.

The sad reality

This article, however, isn’t about giving myself a platform to complain about my circumstances. Instead, it’s about appreciating how lucky I actually am. Lucky because I (just about) have the money to afford to go through this painstaking process.

The same unfortunately cannot be said for a significant portion of Brits — particularly those who are young and in low-income jobs. The sad reality is that they will find it almost impossible to afford both the time and money needed to go through the process of moving to another country for work or otherwise.

In fact, a study estimated that on average a Brit has £276 of disposable income per month — that’s roughly £10 a day. In this context, having over £600 spare to go through a visa process with no guarantee of success is not something many Brits can feasibly afford.  

This of course only makes it worse when young people (who are disproportionately in low-income jobs), are told that we should live somewhere else instead of complaining about the current state of the country. We’d love to! But the fact is, many of us can’t afford to leave.

Limbo land

Young people in the UK find themselves in a very strange position. We face a British electorate and a British government that for the last decade have given very little consideration to our wants and needs. From the evergrowing house prices, tuition fee rises, a shortage of good jobs, underfunded public services and expensive public transport, to a referendum where a disproportionately older electorate voted for an outcome that would inevitably impact the opportunities of younger people. These are the facts of the matter. And yet, we still have a media and political class that scoffs at us and calls us ‘entitled’ when we object in protest.

The young are stuck in limbo. It is a limbo in which our needs are deferred and our political voice stifled. Ironically, we are in a predicament where our ability to leave an island that holds us in such disregard has been taken away by the very same people who seem to hate us and want us gone.

The current state of the UK aside, what is truly sad is that the ability to live — entailing everything that is important; friendship, life experiences and even love — has been severely impeded for many Brits. 

The previously mentioned Erasmus programme, although only representing a tiny fraction of the movement of people between European borders, is an important example of the human costs of Brexit and beyond.

It has been estimated that there have been over 1 million babies born as a result of people meeting on the Erasmus exchange programme since 1987. My recent experience in applying for a visa, and the costs and complications involved, has left me with a deep sense of loss. The chance to experience different cultures and ways of thinking, meet new friends and even life partners from across the continent, now largely belongs to a bygone Golden Age of Britain.

As with so many things in this country, the best life opportunities will be in the hands of the wealthy who can afford the new costs. Britain is on its way to becoming a more insular and inward-looking place at a time when a serious rethink about the future is needed.

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