Italians in the UK: 'After all these years, we feel unwanted'

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Thousands of young Italians have moved to London in recent years. Photo: TJ Morris
18:07 CEST+02:00
Italian expats in the UK shared feelings of anger, fear and confusion after Britain voted to leave the EU. And they never even got a say.

The UK has drawn Italian immigrants for decades.

In the last few years alone, thousands of young Italians have moved there for work, managing to carve out successful careers, while contributing massively to the British economy.

The Italian consulate estimates that 600,000 Italians are now living in England and Wales.

But many members of the country’s Italian community were shocked to wake up on Friday to learn that their host nation elected to leave the EU.

Alessandra Castelli, from Milan, moved to London over 13 years ago, shortly after obtaining a law degree.

During that time, she has mastered English fluently, married a British man and had two children – all the while rapidly rising to the position of editor for a London-based financial newswire that employs thousands globally.

“I was absolutely shocked by the result, I really didn’t think it would come to this,” she told The Local.

“My husband is British, my two children are British. After 13 and a half years here, today is the first day I feel like an outsider.”

The Italian embassy in London, where the vast majority of Italians have settled, moved to assure them on Friday, saying that Britain’s decision to leave the EU would not change their situation for the next two years at least.

"Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that the Italian government will be watchful of the respect of the rights acquired by Italian citizens in the immediate future and in the future negotiations for the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union," the embassy said in a statement.

But with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who backed ‘Remain’, stepping down on Friday morning, those words have done little to alleviate concerns.

“I’ve been speaking to others from within the EU – Germans, Spanish....we all feel the same. These are all highly-skilled people,” Castelli, added.

“What is going to happen next? Will there be the same opportunities for others who come?”

Castelli said she would now apply for British citizenship, which requires taking an English language test because she obtained her degree at a foreign university.

Meanwhile, experts in Italy have said that Brexit would hit the thousands of young Italians who have their sights set on the UK, with many possibly opting to go elsewhere.

“Fees for Italian students at UK universities will more than double, and stricter border controls will see many young Italians heading to different countries to find work,” Franco Pavoncello, a political science professor and president of Rome’s John Cabot University, told The Local.

Such a scenario would undoubtedly be a big loss for the UK too, which over the last few decades has built a vibrant, multicultural society, largely off the back of hard-working immigrants.

“I built my career in the UK, the country has given me so much,” Castelli said.

“But I’ve also paid so much in tax, and have made a career here. Now I feel unwanted.”

Cecilia Bressan, 27, an architect from Turin, moved to London three years ago.

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“I’m feeling quite scared. I consider London my home, but I don’t feel so welcome anymore, ” she said.

“Most of the people didn’t seem to realise the implications of this decision and voted without thinking too much or being informed.

"You’re not breaking a friendship, you’re breaking an important deal. And now we need to face the consequences."

Like Castelli, Bressan said the UK has helped her carve out a career as an architect, but now fears there will be a freeze on new projects as the construction sector is usually the first to be hit in an economic downturn.

“Everyone is extremely worried,” she said.

“But it’s hard to think ahead yet, as a) we don’t know what’s going to happen, and b) if you think about it too much you just panic.” 

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