What Does Brexit Mean For French Citizens In The UK?

The 300,000 French people in the U.K. may now find it more difficult to live and work there.
Britain has voted to break out of the European Union, and its 3 million non-British residents are panicking.
Britain has voted to break out of the European Union, and its 3 million non-British residents are panicking.

A day before Britain was scheduled to vote on whether it should leave the European Union, a group of French people boarded the Eurostar train in Paris with 600 croissants and headed for London.

On the streets, they handed out the pastries with postcards, each with a message of unity on its back. “I am grateful for open borders, for the right to travel and work elsewhere, for cultural and culinary exchange,” one of the postcards read.

But after a majority of U.K. voters chose to exit the EU in a so-called "Brexit," the 300,000 French citizens in Britain -- 200,000 of whom live in London -- are in a state of panic, or at the very least, confusion, over their futures in the country.

The "leave" campaign has pledged that the 3 million EU citizens living in the U.K. will not be affected by any new immigration policies. “There will be no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK,” the campaign said on its website.

Yet according to Christophe Premat, deputy for French residents overseas in the French National Assembly, there is reason to worry: Like many analysts, he believes that matters are likely to change for French expats, since immigration was a central topic in the "leave" campaign.

"The Brexit camp focused on the contribution of the United Kingdom to the EU, on sovereignty and immigration," Premat told HuffPost France.

Premat says that many of the French citizens in London hold jobs in digital technology companies and startups. “There are many entrepreneurs, but also young people who have left school and are trying to find their first job," he says.

These hundreds of thousands of French citizens risk losing various rights, including the right to residence, employment and access to public services -- such as health and education.

Prior to Brexit, French citizens were allowed to take up residence in the U.K. New policies may place French citizens in the same category as non-EU nationals, making it more difficult for them to live in Britain.

"People are asking me if they need to get British citizenship," said Premat. "They may be inclined to get it to make life easier, and out of concern in the face of rising xenophobia."

Post-Brexit, the U.K. may also require non-British employees to acquire work permits -- similar to the situation in Switzerland, which does not belong to the EU.

Social aid may also be affected. Economists in favor of Brexit have said that European migrants represent a huge burden to the British economy -- a claim could be used to restrict family allowances for non-British Europeans.

A version of this piece was originally published on HuffPost France, and has been translated into English and adapted for a U.S. audience.

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