There was a nurse on my flight home to Málaga. A Spanish nurse, working in a GP surgery in Dorset. British husband, dual-nationality totally bilingual daughter. We’d been chatting in the queue about the newish Ryanair rules requiring us to jam our handbags INSIDE our cabin bags, just for passing through the gate before boarding. ¡Qué pena! What a pain. She was flying to Spain for just a couple of days, to collect her daughter from the Spanish grandparents in Granada province to bring her back for the new school term.
Inevitably THAT subject came up. The other Spanish nurse at her surgery had already packed up and left the UK. She hadn’t wanted to go through the palaver of applying for Settled Status because she’d been out of the UK for a year recently when her abuela (grandmother) had been ill, and she already knew that would cause hiccups in her application. This woman, Almudena, had put her application in but had not heard the outcome yet. She was a bit worried, as she’d applied quite early (the Settled Status application system was piloted first in the NHS before being rolled out) so she thought there might be a problem. Without it she was worried she wouldn’t be able to travel in November. I’d read similar concerns on the Facebook forum for Spanish people in the UK. I have no idea whether their concerns were justified or not – but when you have those uncertainties, you daren’t make plans.
The young woman in front of us turned to listen. Her t-shirt bore a feminist slogan in Spanish. She joined in the conversation, almost spitting her answer. “No voy a pedirlo”, she said, her upper lip curling slightly. “I’m not going to apply. It’s not fair. I went there to work, cleaning up their grandmothers so they don’t have to. If they don’t want me there then I’ll leave. I can work anywhere.”
“I thought the same” said Almudena. “I was furious. I made my life there, I had the right. Just because their stupid country made a stupid decision, why should they turn MY life upside down?” The presence of the feisty one had brought out more of Almudena’s frustration. Talking just to me she had only had positives to say about Britain. She had called it “home”. But the anger had been there, simmering very close to the surface. Now it was “their stupid country”. I didn’t object. How could I?
The young care-worker said she might go to Italy next as someone from her village was already working there, and she’d like to add Italian to her impressive list of languages. Though other EU countries don’t go out actively trying to recruit nurses and care-workers in Spain. Only the UK does that. Ironic, really. The Home Office refuses Settled Status on some technicality for a nurse with 25 years of experience in the NHS (having been educated and trained at Spain’s expense), and at the same time the NHS advertises in the Spanish nursing press and general newspapers to encourage more, to replace those who are exiting. Meanwhile, the Spanish health service welcomes the returners with open arms. They now speak perfect English (useful for dealing with British patients in Spanish hospitals who don’t have the language) and they have worked in a variety of settings in the UK with a wide range of nationalities. Excellent attributes! But, sadly, attributes which are not valued in the UK, in our rush to either actively eject these workers or simply ramp up the Hostile Environment so they leave of their own accord.
We filed on board. After an acquaintance of a mere half hour, Almudena hugged me and wished me a good flight and a good continued life in Spain. I wished her luck with her Settled Status and reminded her to join the Facebook group for Spaniards facing Brexit. A couple of hours later we landed in Málaga and I headed home to Colmenar. Yes I still do keep “a foot in two campos”, and I love my visits to Dorset to see my lovely friends. But I am settled in Spain. I feel as though my “status” is that of “settled”. My adopted country is being kinder to me than my birth country is to Almudena and countless like her. I shall go back in October for the big protest march. I’ll march for Almudena too, and for all the nurses, care-workers, shop staff, plumbers, mothers, partners, neighbours and friends who don’t want to leave, don’t want to be pushed out, don’t want to feel so UN-settled.
© Tamara Essex 2019 http://www.twocampos.com