Brexit Fallout: Anxious Immigrants, Backtracking Politicians : Parallels The Brexit vote could complicate the lives of European Union citizens working in the United Kingdom. And politicians who supported the Brexit now seem to be backsliding on anti-immigrant pledges.
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Brexit Fallout: Anxious Immigrants, Backtracking Politicians

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Brexit Fallout: Anxious Immigrants, Backtracking Politicians

Brexit Fallout: Anxious Immigrants, Backtracking Politicians

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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One of the effects of last week's Brexit vote is that many EU immigrants in the United Kingdom are worried about their future. Immigration was a hot issue in the campaign leading up to the referendum. But there's doubt about whether there will actually be any big cuts in the number of EU nationals coming into Britain, the very thing many people said they were voting for last week. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports from London.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Sandy Berart sat in the shade of a birch tree this afternoon eating a very British lunch - a cheddar cheese and pickle sandwich - and wondered what lay ahead of her in the city she calls home.

SANDY BERART: The first thoughts I had was am I going to be able to stay and work freely?

LANGFITT: Berart is a 41-year-old assistant office manager from France. She was describing her reaction to last week's surprise vote to leave the European Union.

How long have you lived here?

BERART: Nineteen years.

LANGFITT: And you're worried?

BERART: Yes, I am.

LANGFITT: You think they would deport you after 19 years?

BERART: Not deport me, no, I don't think so. But it could - I mean, in the near future we could just have more difficulties in finding jobs.

LANGFITT: Is it clear to you what your status will be going forward here?

BERART: No, not at all.

LANGFITT: Did you see this coming?

BERART: Not at all.

MADELEINE SUMPTION: It's a time of a lot of uncertainty for many people.

LANGFITT: Madeleine Sumption runs the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford. She says more than 2 million people born in EU nations work here. But contrary to many fears, Sumption does not think the government will throw most EU immigrants out.

SUMPTION: The central estimate is that 100 percent of people who are already here would be able to stay, that there would be some kind of cut-off date after which people would have the new rules apply to them. The reason for that is when the U.K. government introduces new immigration rules, they tend only to apply to people who haven't yet arrived.

LANGFITT: During the campaign, some Brexiteers suggested they would sharply cut the flow of new immigrants from the EU, and that created big expectations.

PETER CATTERALL: Some people thought that the immigrants would be on the boat the following day.

LANGFITT: This is Peter Catterall. He teaches history at the University of Westminster. Catterall says since the victory, some politicians have started backpedaling in order to keep access to the hugely valuable European market. They say the U.K. will have to allow the free movement of workers from the European Union.

CATTERALL: There is very little likelihood that what people thought they were voting for is actually going to be delivered.

LANGFITT: When anti-immigrant voters realize they won't get what they were promised, Catterall says they'll become angrier and more disaffected.

CATTERALL: They're already feeling that people are not listening to them, taking the view that the people in metropolitan London - these experts who talk down to them - are not listening to their problems. And the risk is that you will move from increasing cynicism towards democracy towards listening to demagogues.

LANGFITT: So how will the Brexiteers address the immigration issue? Boris Johnson, the current favorite to become Britain's next Tory prime minister, has suggested the U.K. adopt an immigration system used in Australia. It would allot points to EU migrants based on their skills, including level of English. But Khanh Hoang who studies immigration at Australian National University says pro-Brexit politicians don't seem to really understand the Australian model.

KHANH HOANG: If you kind of look closer at what the points test does - and it's not actually a tool to limit migration at all.

LANGFITT: He says the points-based system tries to match immigrants to labor needs as determined by the government. But the system in Australia has had problems. Some immigrants claim skills they don't actually have. And Hoang says the government's estimates of needs haven't always been accurate.

HOANG: You could have people that meet the points test and they come into Australia, but, in fact, there is no work for them because, in fact, the shortages in those areas aren't exactly what the government thought they were.

LANGFITT: Hoang says immigration is often an effective wedge issue for winning political campaigns in different parts of the world, as the Brexit effort has shown. Designing and running an effective immigration policy, he says, is trickier. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London.

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