Are we migrants or citizens?

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Are we migrants or citizens?

EU citizenship means that within the European Union the ‘right to free movement’ is actually a lot more than merely the right to free movement but the right to move freely and to enjoy equivalent rights of a national of that country*. Before the EU if someone from one country in Europe moved to another country in Europe then they were legally a migrant and did not enjoy the same rights as nationals. However, since the existence of the EU and when all people became EU citizens then if you move to another country you are not a migrant in that sense because you are an EU citizen and therefore have the same rights as if you were a citizen of that country.

Often we understand the word migrant to mean someone who isn’t a national and therefore doesn’t enjoy the same rights as nationals. But actually migration just means move from one place to another. So in a sense I migrated from South London to near Brighton as a child with my parents, and from there to Birmingham for a job with the BBC. Then I migrated to the USA as a volunteer NGO worker. Then back to Birmingham with the NGO. Then to Cyprus again as a volunteer NGO worker.

Normally we think of migration as permanent movement from one place to another place even though some people we call ‘migrant workers‘, as an example some farm workers, are frequently only temporary or seasonal workers which tends to confuse the way we express things. Really we should call them ‘temporary migrant workers‘.

Countries usually consider what their governments call migrants as foreigners or non-citizens of the country.  And that’s where EU citizenship comes into play. When I moved to the USA, I was definitely a foreigner. I was not a citizen of that country nor did I enjoy the same citizenship rights as every USA citizen. For instance, although at that time US citizens were not required to have health insurance I was obligated to have private health insurance and it cost me a lot of money. It was a condition of my visa that I would ‘return home’ at the end of the contract. And in that sense I was a temporary migrant worker.
When we moved to Cyprus 20 years ago, I was a foreigner. Cyprus was not part of the EU. Every year I had to apply for a ‘pink slip’ to allow me and my family to remain on the island.  I was obligated to have private health insurance, though the price was a whole lot less than the USA. And every year I had to prove I had sufficient income to remain here.

Then when Cyprus joined the EU on 1 May 2004 we as a family felt we had come home. We could enjoy the same rights, obligations and privileges as Cyprus citizens who were also now EU citizens. We really felt we were at home. And this has become our home — we sold our house in the UK and bought one here in Cyprus and we hope for the rest of our lives. In a sense I felt we had changed from ex-pats (temporary relocation with an intention to return ‘home’) to migrants (permanent relocation to a ‘new home’) except that because we are EU citizens it felt more like moving from Brighton to Birmingham within the UK than to another country… so not even migrants.

Many EU citizens have not realised how much EU citizenship relates to freedom of movement and actually adds a whole lot more to it. When you move within the EU from Member State to Member State you are celebrating unity in this amazing continent we dare to call home. You are not a foreigner. You are home.

Richard Fairhead

equivalent rights of a national of that country — please see a future article about obligations of EU citizens exercising the right of free movement to another Member State

Please tell us about your experiences of living in other Member States of the European Union. And let us know if we can share it on this site.



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