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Rebordering Britain & Britons after Brexit

Unsettling Events: Understanding Migrants' Responses to Geopolitical Transformative Episodes through a Life-Course Lens


Migration under the European Union's (EU) Freedom of Movement is constructed as temporary and circular, implying that migrants respond to changing circumstances by returning home or moving elsewhere. This construction underpins predictions of an exodus of EU migrants from the United Kingdom (UK) in the context of Brexit. While migration data indicate an increase in outflows since the vote to leave the EU, the scale does not constitute a “Brexodus.” Moreover, EU migrants' applications for UK citizenship have been increasing. The data, though, are not sufficiently detailed to reveal who is responding to Brexit in which way. This article aims to offer a deeper understanding of how migrants experience and respond to changing geopolitical episodes such as Brexit. Introducing the term “unsettling events,” we analyze data collected longitudinally, in the context of three moments of significant change: 2004 EU enlargement, 2008-09 economic recession, and Brexit. Examining our data, mainly on Polish migrants, through a life-course lens, our findings highlight the need to account for the situatedness of migrant experiences as lived in particular times (both personal and historical), places, and relationships. In so doing, we reveal various factors informing migrants' experiences of and reactions to unsettling events and the ways in which their experiences and reactions potentially impact migration projects.

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International Migration Review


Majella Kilkey (United Kingdom)
Louise Ryan (United Kingdom)

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