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Rebordering Britain & Britons after Brexit

Mitigating the hostile environment: the role of the workplace in EU migrant experience of Brexit

Abstract

The rejection of free movement embodied in the 2016 Referendum vote created tremendous uncertainty regarding the immediate and future legal rights of EU nationals living in the UK. Drawing on interviews with EU staff and management at three universities, this paper asks how Brexit was experienced by highly skilled migrants in a sector reliant on EU migration, and the ways that employment in higher education buffered staff against its impact. Interviews reveal the ways that the Brexit vote disrupted previous perceptions of life in the UK, creating new feelings of vulnerability in terms of rights as well as public acceptance. Symbolic and practical support provided by management, as well as informal support from colleagues, cushioned EU employees against this shock. At the same time, employee satisfaction with employer response was shaped by perceptions of a neo-liberal turn within the University, with a subset of (primarily) academics expecting more personalised support and political involvement in the Brexit debate. Ironically, at the institutional level, the university with the most neo-liberal employment model was the most concerned and proactive in response to the Brexit vote, due to reliance on ready access to the EU to fulfil contingent labour contracts.

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Journal

Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies

Author

Renee Reichl Luthra (United Kingdom)

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