Brexit: a Sad Story with Happy End for Slovaks in the UK

In the following article, we bring forward a brief report on the early-stage research conducted by the Slovak team from Matej Bel University, Banská Bystrica. In similarity to our V4 colleagues, we have recruited our interview partners either on personal-acquaintance basis, or with help of the social networks, especially the expat groups. All our interviews took place online and in those done in spring 2020, most of the interviewees were preoccupied with the new coronavirus and circumstances resulting from its outbreak rather than with Brexit. Consequently, they were inclined to see the importance or impact of Brexit on their lives considerably reduced. We dare to imply this with reference to the interviews from early 2021, in which Brexit seemed to play a more important role in people´s lives (again).

According to the official figures based on various statistics of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there are app. 84 thousand Slovaks living in the UK. The number that the expat organizations have arrived at is slightly higher, app. 100 thousand. In 2019, before the actual Brexit and before Covid too, there were thousands of Slovaks worrying about possible negative impact of Brexit on their lives in the UK resulting in their considerations of return to Slovakia, the Slovak Embassy in the UK says. However, current statistics do not show materialization of these plans, even despite the fact mentioned above, i. e. people taking Brexit into account more intensely now than a year ago.

The most striking parallel between the Slovak interviewees we have talked to so far concerned the major milestones on the path to their present status of the EU citizens settled in the UK. Regardless their current occupation, all of them came first as au-pairs, including the males, with original intention to stay for 6-12 months, learn/improve the language and come back home to try the university (again). Instead, they studied in the UK and now all have attractive, rather high-ranking, and well-paid jobs in a tolerant multicultural environment. This gives them a steady anchor in the country and makes it easy for them to ignore scarcely occurring verbal attacks of unimportant strangers trying to send them away. Along with the UK´s specific charm (or London´s, for Jana), their spouses found in this “promised land” have caused that some have had children, and all are planning both near and far future within the British Isles. Despite that, however, most prefer keeping their Slovak passport as, according to Miro, “the British passport has become worthless not only due to Brexit.“ By the way, Miro is the only one considering leaving the UK, but not repatriation.

Those who emigrated before 2004 and so had the (repeated) experience of the “second-rate immigrants“ forced to undergo lengthy and rather humiliating procedure at the border, were quite emotional about the prospect of its coming back as a result of Brexit. The younger ones, like Mirka, were more relaxed about the idea of Brexit in general, but still insisted on their EU rather than UK citizenship. The reasons include their vivid relationships with the family, visits to the home country, wish to travel to other EU countries freely, and even Mirka´s potential return home for retirement. However, at the prospect of the new Slovak double-citizenship legislation, this issue will soon become irrelevant.

There is one more aspect that deserves a special focus. Stano enjoys the UK´s tolerance toward the queer people, which is a big contrast to the conservative majority in Slovakia. Interesting enough, his gay identity was not the reason that led him to the UK at the time of his arrival.  Now, however, it is one of the key items on the list of things that keep him there and prevent him from coming back home.

All in all, Slovaks in the UK we have talked to have observed and adapted to Brexit well. They do not intend to leave the UK now and are enthusiastic about building their lives in the country which has given them the opportunities they lacked at home. So far so good.

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