Norfolk Street, Wisbech, one of the areas of the town most densely populated with migrant run businesses.
When Jo got in touch with us we assumed she was volunteering to speak up because she is an EU national. Jo in fact comes from the USA. She is currently studying in the UK. What moved her to meet with us?
'I have lots of friends who come from EU countries and I see them being abused and being unable to do anything about it and enforce their rights.'
I ask Jo's views about what brings EU nationals to the UK. Do they come for benefits?
‘My experience just in friends and people that I know is that no one comes to this country thinking jackpot, I’m going to get on benefits, I don’t have to work.'
'They come here and they honestly want a better life, a better career, they want to improve their English and most of them plan on returning to their countries and want to return to their countries [...] they have ties there. You know they miss their families when they are here its just that maybe the situation in their country at that time isn’t the best work wise.'
I ask how easy she thinks it is for EU migrants to claim benefits in the UK. She says:
‘It’s difficult for migrants to claim benefits, unless you’ve been high quite a lot of time and your English is good. I mean even myself when I came here I had no idea that I had workers' rights. I worked for a company for two years and they cut my hours and just made part of my role redundant and I had absolutely no idea that I could do anything about it. So I just said that’s OK, I will just find another job. And now I know that there are all of these rights.'
'If I don’t know and English is my native language how on earth would someone that’s a second language learner know this and understand it?’
What impact does she think talks of Brexit or a renegotiated relationship between the UK and EU are having on the day to day experiences of EU nationals living in the UK?
‘I think they feel a slight underlying hostility. They do feel like they are not being welcomed with open arms in this country, which is sad. [...] There’s no need for it. I see it in my own country with Trump and people having this fear of migrants, although for some reason for us its not the Europeans, we love the Spanish and Italians. We’re worried about people coming from Mexico. But it’s just this fear and this subtle hostility towards someone that maybe doesn’t speak the language as well as you or is from somewhere else that just isn’t necessary.’
What about the problems of too many people migrating and claiming benefits, I ask:
‘If you’re inviting someone to come and work in your country but you’re making them second class citizens then that doesn’t send a very good message. I heard about a study […] they were saying that when a lot of workers came from South America they are not stealing jobs, they are not a leach on the system, it’s the opposite, they are actually creating more jobs and creating more industry and that it is net positive.
'And I think when you start off by saying well you can come but don’t think that you are getting our benefits straight away you are sort of getting off on the wrong foot.'
'With any system you are going to have people who cheat the system that’s as true of English people and Americans. You know there will always be people who will try to find a way to cheat the system and it is difficult to stop that. But you can’t just paint everyone with that brush and assume that people are coming here with ill intentions because the majority of people are not.’
If, as Jo says, the benefits of migration are so clear, I ask her why many people think otherwise:
‘Politicians take advantage of scaremongering. There is trouble in the economy and people want scapegoats and its easy to blame the migrants because they maybe cannot stand up for themselves.'
'So you get politicians saying “They’re coming over here, they’re stealing our jobs and taking our benefits, they’re taking money out of your pockets and food out of your childrens’ mouths. Don’t be mad at the politicians, don’t look at yourselves, just blame these people.” So it’s just an easy out.’