In the first of a three part interview, Dianna Djokey interviews German migrant and doctor Lisa, about the pandemic, becoming a British citizen, and the impact of Brexit on migrants in the UK. Lisa’s name was changed at her request.
Dianna Djokey: What was your journey like as a German migrant to become a British citizen in the UK?
Lisa: It started in the mid-1990s when I worked as a junior doctor in a British military hospital in Germany for two years. That was a time-limited contract and when that finished I was unemployed. I applied for jobs in Germany and in Britain simultaneously [and] I got a job offer [in] Sheffield for a year. When I didn’t [get] a job offer [in] Germany I took that. I had previously done a three week stint in Kent to see what it’s like to work in the UK and then I did six months in Buckinghamshire, two months back in Germany, then I came to Portsmouth, where I have been ever since.
I’ve been [in Portsmouth] since April 2000 so over 20 years and I’ve been in the same job ever since. I’ve always felt very much European. The city where I went to University in Germany is by the Dutch and Belgian border, [and] when I was a student the borders came down. The border posts and the little border huts were abandoned and you could just travel on the bus easily into Belgium or Holland. [You could] just go for a coffee in Holland, come back and go shopping in Belgium, go [to] a concert in Belgium, and that has been my lifestyle since the 1980s, to just go across borders. When the Euro came in it was easier because before we had to carry three currencies, one for Germany, one for Belgium and one for the Netherlands.
The first few years [working in the UK] I spent learning the job, learning [about] the new environment. I started to become politically active around about 2012, with the passage of the Health and Social Care Act, which has pushed forward NHS privatization a lot ever since. [As a result, and] especially since Brexit, I feel like I am experiencing two betrayals.
One is the privatization of the NHS. I’m in favour of the NHS being a completely public service, no profit motives, a nationalized service. I am so grateful that I just get the same salary every month regardless of how many people I refer or don’t refer for scans and tests, whereas in other countries doctors get paid more, the more tests they refer for and I don’t want that. I want to be free in my clinical decision-making, and that is getting worse every year.
The second is Brexit. [Almost] 60% of people [in Portsmouth] voted out. I feel that people voted to get rid of people like me and that I find really hurtful, especially as I have given so much of my life to British healthcare, to British patients.
How did you end up in Portsmouth?
I applied for a particular job [that] few people in the UK are trained [for, but] it is very common in the German language areas of Europe to be trained [for]. So, I applied for this specialist job in Britain, [and] that’s how I got the job and [ended up here].
You’re now a British Citizen, what made you decide to become a citizen and did Brexit play a role in that?
Yes, I never wanted to become a British citizen because I still consider myself European and German [by] nationality. My German passport, [before] Brexit was sufficient to work anywhere in the EU and live anywhere in the EU.
I found it difficult not being allowed to vote in the EU referendum. I think if the Government had chosen to structure the vote like the European Parliament Elections, where I could vote and have always voted in Britain, then I could have voted in the [referendum]. They chose to structure it along the lines of the British parliamentary elections, not the European Parliament way, which meant I couldn’t vote. I found [it] difficult when the decision was made and [EU citizens] had no say in it, except maybe the few that had been British citizens before then.
Eventually I decided to go for permanent residence as it then was, it has since been replaced with settled status. I wanted to be able to vote. I also wanted to be able to stand as a candidate in elections, hence why I then [applied] for British citizenship. Before, as an EU citizen you could stand in local elections where you live, but now, with Brexit that would no longer be possible. I am quite active in a political party so I did stand in local elections last year. I didn’t want that possibility taken away from me. [Those] were some of the main points in me deciding to [become] a British citizen.
S&C has been awarded funding from the European Journalism Centre Covid-19 Support Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on diverse communities and sectors in Portsmouth:
- voluntary sector, including charities, community groups and social enterprises
- small businesses and self-employed people
- BAME communities
- people with disabilities
We have also been awarded funding from the Public Interest News Foundation Emergency Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on migrants, and asylum seekers and refugees.