Since the Brexit referendum more and more Poles living in the United Kingdom are considering a return to Poland – the situation that Polish government would certainly be happy to applaud. However the significant number of Poles is also considering applying for British citizenship. So how not to give up on the current life and apply for a British passport?
We asked Krzysztof Darewicz – a Pole living in the United Kingdom for over 10 years, about all the matters concerning Poles in Great Britain. Darewicz told Polish Express, what he thinks about the current situation in the UK – especially about the mood among Poles living in Ealing, in London, and why he thinks it is worth seeking a British passport.
Polish Express: You have lived in London for many years. Why did you choose Great Britain as your home? What convinced you to settle here?
Krzysztof Darewicz: I've lived in London for over ten years. Like many Poles, I came here accidentally - on holiday and to visit my family.But when I got an interesting job quickly, I decided to stay. I was educated in the USA and China, I passed international matriculation in English,so I adapted here without much difficulty. The most important reason for my staying in the UK was, of course, earnings. A young person working here can afford much more than, for example, in Poland. Besides, I like living in this cosmopolitan, multicultural city with a very interesting story. London provides me with a lot of positive energy and I constantly discover something new in it.
PE: When running a business in London, in a district in which the Polish community is very numerous, you have close contacts with it. What are the moods relating to Brexit among the Poles you know? Are they considering leaving Great Britain?
KD: I work in the building materials industry in Ealing, the "capital" of Polish London. Over half of my clients are Polish builders and Poles living in the area.
A few days ago, one of my better clients who has been buying from us for many years and whom I really value, told me that after almost twelve years of working in London, he decided to go back to Poland. A similar decision was made by his son, who also has a construction company here for a long time. There are more and more such people, many of my friends either go back or plan to do so in the coming months. It seems to me that after the referendum and the decision about Brexit, the mood in London has generally deteriorated, not only among Poles.
This is no longer the same city as five or ten years ago. Everything is getting more expensive, and wages are not goin up by much, although there are plenty of jobs available. In addition, in Poland the level and quality of life is constantly improving, wages are also rising, unemployment is falling. That is why people who have roots there - families, homes, friends – now find it's much easier to go back and Brexit, in a sense, motivates them even more to do that. England outside the European Union will certainly not be as attractive as in the EU, even for the simple reason that again you won't be able to come here with just an ID card.
PE:You have British citizenship. After the referendum on Brexit, many Poles have started the application procedure due to the uncertain situation associated with the status of immigrants from the EU after the exit of the United Kingdom from the Community. What prompted you to apply for a British passport?
KD: I received British citizenship last year, after two years of formalities. Before that, I had to have so-called status of a permanent resident, to be able to apply for citizenship afterwards. Brexit influenced my decision the most, although I had all the citizenship exams passed before the referendum because I've planned to settle here. The uncertainty about the status, the rights and the prospect of an even more intricate bureaucracy after Brexit terrified me so I decided to settle all this before the official date of Brexit in 2019. Like hundreds of thousands of Poles who live here for a long time, pay taxes, set up families or buy houses - I also wanted to be sure that my status and achievements are guaranteed by the British state. Citizenship gives me such a guarantee. Of course, I did not give up Polish citizenship since both countries allow dual citizenship.
PE: Can you explain to our readers how to apply for British citizenship - do you think the tests have a high degree of difficulty? Have you encountered cases in which someone - despite prior preparation - failed the test?
KD: The first step is applying for permanent residence, it costs about £ 70-80. You need to document your stay so it's worth collecting all evidence for it,like the original contracts of employment, earnings certificates, tax documents, rental agreements for apartments, bills for gas, electricity, water, etc. These are very important documents that will be necessary when applying for permanent residence, and then for citizenship. They are required to be sent to the Home Office.
One of the requirements is also to give all dates of trips and arrivals to the UK for the last 5 years as accurately as possible. That's why I advise you to keep all flight tickets, ferry, rail, etc. because these dates are on them. As for the tests - there is a conversation that tests English level B1. And the "Life in the UK" test, for knowledge of history, culture and life in the UK. In my opinion, both tests are easy, especially when someone speaks and reads well or quite well in English.The oral test is just a few minutes' conversation about a specific topic, in my case it simply concerned everyday life in London.
List of schools and universities where such a test takes place is included on the Home Office website. However, to be well prepared for the computer test "Life in the UK"all you need to do is buy the guidebook (£ 5-10). All questions are covered in it. The test consists of 24 questions and lasts up to 45 minutes but most questions are very simple (for example, what is the theatre district called in Lodnon- meaning the West End) and you can finish it much faster. The book prepares well for the test and no question can be asked which would not be in this manual. I do not know of anyone who would not pass this test. The tests cost money , £ 50 for written and over £ 150 for oral. The application for citizenship alone is not cheap, the fee is currently £ 1330. Therefore, it must be properly prepared so as not to pay extra for mistakes.
PE: Do you think that having British citizenship currently makes life easier in the United Kingdom?
KD: Of course. I will give a practical example - a few weeks ago, after returning from my holiday in Brazil, I became seriously ill and had to go to the hospital.I do not have a GP and I did not have a referral, so I was anticipating problems. I suspect that with a Polish passport everything would be quite complicated - formalities, determining all the details. Not that they would not accept me, but it would definitely take a long time.However, as soon as I showed my British passport, I was immediately taken care of.
Another important issue is participation in the elections, the right to vote. As a long-term UK resident who pays taxes here,I want to be able to decide what is happening around me, i.e. choosing deputies, councilors, etc.As a historian I am very interested in politics.As a citizen of the European Union I am able to vote in local elections but British citizenship gives me the opportunity to vote in parliamentary elections.And with time, I can even run if I want. And finally, citizenship also makes it easier to work in state institutions, the army, the police, etc.
PE:Do you think Poles in the UK integrate well with British society?
KD: This is quite a controversial issue - for the last ten years in the UK I have met both well-integrated Poles as well as those who even after a dozen or so years of residence still do not speak a word of English. It depends on education, ambitions and environment.In my opinion, too few Poles are integrating, too many are stuck in Polish neighbourhoods , and too few invest in their education (even in the linguistic sense), development, contacts. This is not a beneficial phenomenon for us. But let's not forget that this does not only concerns Poles.
Generally, all immigrants who do not come from the territories and colonies of the former British empire, that is, Slavs, Chinese, Koreans, Hispanics, etc. have big problems with integration. They are working their way up, so it's harder for them at first.Certainly a good prescription for integration are mixed marriages and here I notice more and more Polish-British couples.
Students from universities also integrate quickly. But for a million Poles in the UK it is still not enough. In addition, as Poles, we still have too little clout in the cultural sense. The old Polish community who came here before and after the war is ancient history. Of course, in cosmopolitan London we have a boom in Polish shops (Polski Sklep) and restaurants, but outside of London it is much worse though there are hundreds of thousands of Poles out there. The complete tragedy is with the lack of Polish representatives in the authorities and this is absolutely the greatest challengeso that we can be properly represented here, both numerically and qualitatively.
PE: Well, local elections are fast approaching. Do you think Poles lack a representative in London?
KD: Definitely lacking! As such a large community, we should have here our MPsin the parliament, local councilors and our lobbying groups.There are more of us here than any other minorities, more than even Indians, Pakistanis or the Irish. It's just that they've been here for generations,they were part of the British empire. So it will be much harder for us to get our own team, but I hope that it will happen in time.
We must, of course, start from scratch, from grassroots civil movements and that is why local elections, the lowest one, the basic level should be the best chance for ambitious Poles to appear in politics, gain experience, build contacts, broaden influence. So, I keep my fingers crossed for the prince Zyliñski's Duma/Proud of Poland, because this is in reality the first Polish civic movement in the UK.
PE: Is there anything that you would like to pass on to our compatriots living in England?
KD: Do not neglect to strive for permanent residence and citizenship if you want to stay here after Brexit. Thanks to dual citizenship, you do not have to renounce your identity and roots. As Poles living in the UK, you have practically the same rights as the British. It is worth knowing what you are up to and being sure about your rights. We work hard here, we pay billions of pounds in taxes, we create jobs and businesses, we invest so we should not have absolutely any reasons to feel inferior- just the opposite. And above all - invest in yourself, then others will also invest in you.