Brexit As Seen Through The Eyes Of A Young Migrant

Jul 4, 2016
Originally published on July 4, 2016 6:54 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Leaders of the European Union are insisting that the United Kingdom's exit from the EU should proceed in an orderly way, though it's still unclear on what terms Britain will part company with its EU partners. That's a big worry for small EU countries with citizens working in the U.K. NPR's Corey Flintoff has this report through the eyes of one young migrant.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Here in this Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, it seems that everyone knows someone who lives and works in the U.K. Official British statistics put the number of Lithuanians there at nearly 150,000? That's equal to about 5 percent of Lithuania's total population. I took an informal sample in Vilnius by stopping people on the street and asking them if they'd ever spent time in Britain. It didn't take long to meet this Tikas Radzevicius, who says Brexit is a big concern for him.

TIKAS RADZEVICIUS: Because I studied in England for four years and now I'm back in Lithuania for the summer, but I was actually thinking of going back to London to start a job there. And since last week's events, I'm not sure if I will do it.

FLINTOFF: Radzevicius is a 23-year-old who majored in finance. He says one immediate reason for his uncertainty about Britain is money.

RADZEVICIUS: First of all is the crash of the pound sterling because now the value is depreciating, which, obviously, would make my earnings in Britain worth less.

FLINTOFF: Overseas work is extremely important for young Lithuanians because their home economy can't provide enough jobs for them. Their earnings are important for their country, too. Analysts estimate that Lithuanian workers abroad send home more than $300 million a year. For Radzevicius, though, there's another important issue. He says he's been talking with international friends back in the U.K. who say that the atmosphere has become tense since the Brexit campaign.

RADZEVICIUS: In the sense that racial slurs on the streets or offensive writings on the walls and stuff like that - that it's become much more common because somehow the racists or xenophobes in the country, they feel that after the referendum, they are somehow justified in becoming vocal about their views.

FLINTOFF: Radzevicius says he's experienced different kinds of anti-migrant attitudes.

RADZEVICIUS: There are the working-class, less educated Brits who have no problems in saying out loud that - Lithuanians, go back to your country or Poles, go back to your country. And I've heard that myself while I was working in bars and restaurants across the U.K. But there is a different type of discrimination, which is not as obvious because the more educated British people, they will never say it to your face that I'm not very happy about you being here. But behind your back, they can say whatever they like. And they will never become very close friends with you just because they might have this personal opinion that, you know, Britain is for British people.

FLINTOFF: Radzevicius says his plans for seeking a job in the U.K. are up in the air now.

RADZEVICIUS: What I was specifically looking for was either the banking industry or the consulting industry. The U.K., hopefully, will still remain open to me as a labor market after the withdrawal process is done.

FLINTOFF: But he worries that Britain's banking industry will suffer as a result of its break with the U.K. And that may cost him his chance of starting a long-term career there. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Vilnius. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.