I wake up during the night again, from the same nightmare: I get kicked out of the country, with my dreams, my aspirations and hopes seeping through my fingers like sand.
I am an international student studying in London. My visa and the right to stay in the UK expire in 7 months. This is not just my case: the majority of international students have an unsure future in this country.
We were raised as a generation that could do anything they wanted: to travel the world, to work jobs our parents never even heard of, to live in a globalized world with everything at the tip of our iPhone screen. The life ‘on-demand’. I frequently find myself watching it from the sidelines though. My Russian passport complicates my life with endless applications, government papers, visits to embassies and dreadful waits for your visa to get approved. It also means that as my friends flock to places around the world and never plan ahead, my nationality dictates every decision that I have made so far.
The UK has always been tough on immigration, but since the EU referendum last June it has become even more complex to come to this country. In this post-Brexit reality, many international students and workers simply do not know how they are going to be affected. The fashion industry has vocalized its concerns. The British Fashion Council held a series of roundtables during London Fashion Week in February with a focus on challenges and opportunities surrounding international tariffs and movement of people. Recently, as a part of its talk series, London-based fashion agency The Bridge Co held a panel focusing on visas and sponsorships in the creative industry.
The future is uncertain for all foreigners, but specifically for the EU nationals. “We just don’t know what is going to happen yet,” said Maria Patsalos, a partner at Mishcon de Reya law firm. Patsalos spoke about her meeting with various London designers, whose biggest concerns involved the future of their employees from European countries like seamstresses and pattern-cutters. There is a high-skilled worker visa in the UK, but it mainly covers jobs in engineering, healthcare and mining. Apparently, a niche job of an embroider does not make the cut – although it definitely requires a high level of skill. This means that the thriving fashion industry in England may be facing a massive blow once the ‘divorce’ is settled. Who is going to replace these people if they can’t stay in the country?
Maria Tkachenko, a Russian-born womenswear account manager at Sane Communications, remained positive throughout the discussion. Having lived in England for over a decade, Tkachenko has only recently been granted a right to remain in the country. However, she insisted that London would remain a creative hub even after leaving the EU. “The education in England is fantastic, and people have and will continue to come here, no matter what.” Her advice for recent graduate was to look for jobs in smaller companies that “are much more likely to hire you and to provide the documents for your sponsorship visa.” Networking was another obvious but crucial point she made. “Your contacts are everything in this industry.”
As the discussion was coming to an end, the panel agreed on one silver lining: Brexit is the opportunity to shake the immigration law in the UK, one of the toughest and unforgiving systems in the world. Right now is the time to lobby, send letters to your MPs, and push for a change. The blow to the fashion industry is inevitable in the current environment, but it is up to us to make it softer. My right to stay in this country depends on many variables – the most important one being myself – but it is also up to the British public to shift the policies on immigration.
Words Kristina Ezhova Image Ashish Gupta’s statement IMMIGRANT t-shirt