‘People often ask me whether I’m going home for Christmas. I say I’m already home here in the UK', says Raj.
Raj has lived in the UK now for 9 years. He graduated in Poland, and first came to the UK for an Erasmus exchange year as part of his studies. When his wife was offered a doctoral research position in the UK they moved here together.
Raj tells me that he didn't want to live in Poland:
'It feels like Poland has not mentally recovered from communism yet - people are not paying taxes properly, and even in small things, like when you are queuing for something, pushing in is still seen to be a good thing.'
He thinks that when the older Polish generation, who have known communism, die out many Polish people will return to Poland from across the EU.
'My wife expected to return to Poland after her PhD. I expected it to be too nice in the UK to leave.’
With the help of the husband of a colleague at his wife's work, Raj quickly secured a job as a computer scientist, 'working at a level that matches what I am qualified to do'. He already had his National Insurance number and a bank account from when he had lived in the UK as a student, though he recalled the 'chicken and egg' practical problems he faced in securing these things, particularly because of difficulties in providing proof of address.
Thinking back to his first job, Raj says ‘Looking back I might have been being paid considerably less than my colleagues but maybe that was also because I had just graduated. I still got promoted so I think the lower pay was more because I was a graduate than discrimination against immigrants.’
Raj told me that the British system appeals because of the English language and because it is ‘based on merit rather than on where you are from’. When I ask Raj about migrants, benefits and employment, he highlights the problem of migrants working in jobs below their qualification level:
‘The vast majority of my friends are employed and a significant proportion of them pay higher rate taxes. Having said that I see some people who are employed one way or another but are employed below their educational level in low paid jobs and haven’t had the chance in the UK to return to what they are trained for.’
‘Human brains are quite good at spotting differences: different people stand out. It is easy to say this for immigrants too. Some people might think ‘They have a job, I don’t. If they weren’t here I would have a job.’ But maybe that person has employment because they are a hard worker or are better qualified or have a better attitude. Even if you remove migrants from the UK that UK worker might still have no job.’
On the impact of Brexit he says:
‘Brexit would make no difference to me personally in the sense that I could still live here because I am now a UK citizen. But some people may feel less welcome because of what is going on. I don’t feel as excluded from the discussion because I can have my say in the referendum.’
‘For the EU to work it needs to be as it is branded “ever closer union”. That’s probably never going to happen in my life, but for it to work it can’t be a drain on one country’s money. It is unfair for one country to bear all the costs. But that needs more integration not less. There needs to be a common, federal pool of money that follows citizens that can be spent on what they need wherever they are living at the moment.’