On 28 July 2021, I became a British citizen. I’ve been living in the UK for 18 years, and never considered taking this big step until now. I am proudly European and, I must admit, Brexit played a massive role in my decision. Once I started the application process, something happened to me; collecting payslips, P60s and several documents from decades ago triggered a range of conflicting emotions.
I realised how much living in this country changed me and shaped my character. I became an adult here, I made strong friendships and met extraordinary people. I learned how challenging it is to live away from your family, how rewarding it is to live in a multicultural society, and how contradictory and yet exhilarating British culture is. I then started to ask myself other questions: why did I come here in the first place? Is the UK still the same country as when I arrived? How do other British/European citizens like me feel about it and what are their hopes for the future?
I wanted to know more about the experiences of other people, in order to fully understand my own.
I’ve met, interviewed and photographed nine Europeans that became British citizens after Brexit, in a location meaningful for them. They shared with me their stories, experiences and opinions. Stories of hope, appreciation, disappointment and hard work. The result is a series of images that aim to challenge racism and anti-immigration sentiments, and instead highlight the importance of multicultural coexistence.
The most rewarding part of the citizenship process is not only gaining British nationality. It’s all about the courage to leave your country of origin, the initial struggle, the hard work and resilience. It’s about the cultural exchange and appreciation of a new way of living. It’s all about the journey.
“As an immigrant in London the reality that I faced when I first arrived here was very different than what I imagined. I started to work as a waiter near Battersea Power Station for very little money and the first house I could afford it was falling into pieces. Things then changed slowly.
“I feel attached to this location for a few reasons. My dad had this Pink Floyd record [Animals]. I’ve always liked the cover since I was little, to the point that one day he gave it to me as a present. Then when I moved to London, as a coincidence my first job was around Battersea Power Station.
“In the UK I can be more involved in the art world and there is something that works better here. Society here is more practical, things can happen. Personally, the positive aspect to being in London is the opportunity to study in the second-best design school in the world. My foundation degree for example was incredible – I learned so much.
“I hope that in the future people will remember how this country has been formed; immigration is very important for this society. As I don’t believe in nationality, I also hope that one day the idea of nationalism will disappear”
“I came to the UK on 25 July 1999 at 5.30am at Heathrow airport. I came for three months, as a life experience, with a return ticket that I’ve never used.
“Brexit did not affect my decision to become a British citizen – it was something that I’ve been planning for a long time. The UK for me is home. This country gave me a job, opportunities, and made me grow as a man. I love the fact that I have the mentality of an Italian, because of my education and childhood, but I grow as a man in the UK.
“I sometimes feel that we are still foreigners for the British society, even with the citizenship. Professionally, in some places I don’t think you can grow as much as a native citizen. Some roles are always going to be covered by native British people.
“My hope for the future is that we are going to carry on the way we are. That the UK will be as good as now: looking after their people”
“My experience in the UK has been a rollercoaster; an interesting journey. I came with a one-way ticket in 2012, no job or opportunity and only a landlord contact to find a place to live. Nothing else – just me and my motivation to find a job and settle in the country.
“My aim as always been to become British and stay in the country for a long time. I’ve always seen the UK as a country to go and fulfil your dreams. Almost like an American dream. In Europe, London is seen as the place you go to be successful, to progress in your career.
“I believe that I will always face challenges because of my origins: there will always be people that don’t understand what it means to become British and have dual nationality. But my aim will always be to support British values, be open to people coming from other countries, be unified as a community and blend of different cultures and traditions.
“I truly hope that there will be a positive relationship with the EU, that the UK will identify opportunities to work with other EU countries. Finding that silver lining out of all this trash and arguing that has been Brexit, that will enable the country to be seen strong and welcoming to people that want to come here and live and work.”
“I have been an anglophile since my teenage years. I love the language and culture of this country. But Brexit for me was emotionally very tough, as suddenly I was told I’m a foreigner and that people like me were unwanted in this country. It took so much away; I always felt welcomed in UK, looking eye to eye to everyone. Brexit made me realised I was never fully accepted here, I was always seen as someone who comes begging, rather than an equal person who happens to come from another country.
“Becoming a British citizen was such a hard process; it took me about four months to get all the paperwork. Many native British people have no idea how hard and expensive it is, not everyone can afford it, even if they have the right to get it.
“I got the citizenship because I’ve invested 20 years of my life in this country and I grow as an independent person, and I also want to ability to come back if one day I’ll leave. It gives me freedom and security for me, my kids and partner.
“But I always did and always will identify myself as European, as I believe London is not the UK. London is still a massive melting point of culture beyond the EU where diversity is incredible.”
“I came here about 21 years ago. I was part of the Argentinian economic crisis migrants. As I have been an Italian citizen since I was seven years old, I decided to move to Europe. Then, because of Brexit and the possible future limitation on travelling, I immediately started the application to become British. With the settlement status we can work and study, but the limitations are many that almost make people feel like second-class citizens.
“Also, I wanted to be able to vote, and now I have more right to say what I think, express it with my vote and be fully part of the society. Hopefully all the new citizens like me are going to have an impact on future elections.
“The application process has been like a rollercoaster. When I was preparing the paperwork, I had to dig out old documents and old photos. I went deep into memory lane, and it was very emotional. The moment I received the email saying that my application was successful gave me joy and relief. I lived half of my life in my home country and the other half here. I study here, I bought my flat, developed my professional career. I appreciate this country; it is home. And I hope for people to realise the big mistake they have done and revert Brexit.”
“I moved to UK on 10 September 2003, initially with a student visa, then once Poland joined the EU I decided to stay longer.
“I then recently decided to become British for many reasons but mainly because of the right to vote. Voting for me is something important, and I believe that we should all be actively participating in politics because it directly and indirectly affects our life and the lives of other people and countries.
“The way the government goes about many things is a little bit worrying. I always associated the UK with freedom and liberty, but the relative recent change in legislation, such as the freedom of protest, almost takes that freedom and ability away. Sometimes your freedom can be taken away indirectly by creating so many new rules around it.
“I hope that the UK is going to find a strong leadership that will navigate us through the current murky waters. The next 10 years, because of Brexit and the pandemic, will be very difficult. I believe that there are people that genuinely care about the UK, not just their pockets, so I hope those people will help preserve the country’s values.”
“I arrived in London in 2013 with £160 in my pocket and started to work as an au pair. I did not have any plans to stay very long, but only wanted a life experience. But slowly I started to like this country, decided to stay and now that I work in a primary school, I feel very integrated in this society.
“As dual citizens we make this country work. We are an essential and fundamental part of the community. Because we were not born here but decided to make a new life here, we are very motivated individuals. It is our choice to be here.”
“I moved to the UK in 2013 because in Spain I was alone, and my two sons were already here. After Brexit I was upset and scared, because if my son decided to leave the country, I would not know what to do. Not only I felt it was safer to become a British citizen, but I also always wanted to spend the rest of my life in this country. I discovered so many good things in the UK and received so much help and support by the community and especially the NHS. When my GP discovered I had cancer I was sent very quickly to St Bartholomew’s hospital for an operation. They saved my life.
“There is something different here than any other country. There is a strong sense of community, and it is emotionally rewarding to be part of it. This is the reason why I am proud now to be British and why all the British people should be proud of their country.
“I am now an NHS volunteer because I want to give back to the society and community what I’ve received. I feel so useful, and I am so grateful with everything that for the future I don’t need anything more. I just want my sons and family to be well and safe.”
“I have a sentimental attachment to the UK since 1984, where for the first time I was sent to Bournemouth. After the second world war there was a programme to get pen-friends between Germany and other countries. My mother’s pen-friend was Linda from Bournemouth and they started to write to each other for decades, and they still are nowadays. So, my parents wanted me to learn English and brought me to England.
“I was shocked and surprised when Brexit happened, as I believe the UK would have had more impact in the world inside the EU common market, as the country alone will not be able to compete against bigger market such as the US, China and India. The UK is the most progressive country in Europe and could had become the leader of the EU instead of leaving it.
“This country is still a melting point of different cultures and a well functioning model of how many cultures can work based on common values – and we, as dual citizens, are adding value to this society.”