For some, having to apply to stay in the country they call home has been a humiliating experience.
Richard Bertinet, a baker, has lived in the U.K. for 31 years after moving from France. He was granted the right to remain, but getting it wasn’t easy.
To his surprise, he initially qualified only for “pre-settled status,” intended for people who have lived in the U.K. for less than five years and one step before the full “settled status.”
“I spent more of my life in the U.K. than in France,” Bertinet, 53, told NBC News, as he took a break from teaching a baking class at his cooking school in the picturesque city of Bath in southwest England where he lives with his British wife and three children.
“To have to prove 31 years of your life here? It’s a joke,” he said. “They can go to my Wikipedia page and see who I am.”
The U.K. voted to leave the E.U. in a June 2016 referendum that revealed deep divisions in British society. Those in favor of leaving wanted to “take back control” of the country’s laws and borders. Immigration emerged as one of the major issues for voters.
As things stand, British citizens have the freedom to move and work across the entire bloc of other 27 nations that make up the E.U., while citizens from those countries enjoy the same rights in the U.K.
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Removing Britain from this system and creating new immigration rules was a major motivation for many Brexit supporters.
In the lead up to the referendum, pro-Brexit politicians promised E.U. citizens already living in the U.K. that they would automatically be granted the right to remain in the country and that their rights would stay the same.
Przemysław Piechura, 38, left his native Poland seven years ago.
“For me, Brexit or no Brexit, it doesn’t matter,” he said, between washing vehicles at a car wash in west London, where he works. “Some people are really scared. And for what? This is no problem, Brexit or not. If there is Brexit, go home.”
Piechura said he was applying for settled status in the U.K., but he was thinking about returning to Poland because the economy there has been growing in recent years.
A Romanian co-worker, Cosmin Narcis Savu, 44, said he was also considering leaving after eight years in the U.K. and moving to Spain or Germany — both E.U. members.
With so many people in the Romanian expat community ready to leave, he said the U.K. government is making a big mistake.
“They are totally wrong on this,” he added. “After Brexit, half of small businesses will close straight away. Believe me, for Romanian people, it’s much better to leave.”
“Take this car wash, for example,” he said, pointing to the parking lot, where Piechura was readying to serve another customer. “What English person will work here? I have never seen a single English person work here in my life.”