Rage and disappointment for young Britons over the Brexit result have suffused London for the last few days. Now there are also students expecting to graduate later this Summer experiencing worry, confusion and resignation.
This late June marks the beginning of a troubled time for Britain, there is a wave of uncertainty in the country looming large in the wake of the staggering referendum result. People from different backgrounds living, working and studying in the UK are trying to figure out how this game-changing moment will affect their very own lives.
I came to London last year to pursue my masters degree in culture and media studies. The UK has long been a top destination to study abroad for many Chinese students, and like many of my Chinese peers studying in the UK, I saw it as an opportunity to embark on a fresh journey in which I could hone my academic and professional skills in the hub of global media, and gain rewarding international study and work experience.
I expect to graduate this year and now I find myself standing at the crossroads where I, as all of the other international graduates, must choose between returning home to look for job opportunities or to staying in the UK to gain overseas experience. The question to be considered is: would staying in the UK pose even more challenge to graduates? Such a straightforward question does entail serious evaluations of various aspects: prospects of the post-Brexit job market and visa policy in the UK, one’s ability to deal with uncertain circumstances, and of course, personal preference.
Chinese students who are hesitant to return home right after graduation, can choose to remain in the UK for a short period of time to look for job or placement opportunities. As for myself, one year of postgraduate study seems more than enough to experience the city and explore the country. My initial plan was to make the most of the four months after graduation permitted by my Tier 4 visa to obtain overseas work experience first, which hopefully would be a springboard for a more promising career back in China. I believe I am not alone in holding this position.
However, now with the Brexit, we might have to take a moment or two to reconsider our decision: why do we want to work in the UK? For its prestigious global recruiters? For its dynamic and English-speaking labour market? For the cultural values and lifestyle that we will subscribe to? I used to tick the boxes on all of these factors, but now, these ticks are all replaced by question marks.
As the debate of post-Brexit life goes on, “uncertainty” becomes the keyword on every dimension. In London, though the job market, especially for non-EU graduates, is already fiercely competitive, its appeal for these graduates and job-seekers consistently lies in the city’s role as a global site that welcomes international companies and organisations with more job openings. Some people predict that businesses will bear the brunt of the Brexit, resulting from the low business confidence and hindered mobility of the EU. Now tied in with this is the risk of a recession and possible decline of job creation for international job-seekers. Others take a sanguine view and predict that Britain leaving the EU would cause the withdrawal of over 110,000 EU graduates, which instead is an opportunity growth of highly-skilled positions for the Chinese graduates. I find that the graduate job market at the moment remains confusing and unpromising against such a gloomy economic backdrop, while the latter situation would not be realistically implemented until at least two years from now. At this juncture, the UK job market and the job prospect seems ever-challenging for the Chinese graduates.
There are also concerns about the impending curb on the immigration rules concomitant with the right-wing government, which means that the Chinese job-seekers this year might be subject to more complex visa restrictions. Many of my Chinese classmates resign themselves to the situation where the UK has become more and more insular, and believe that they would rather go back to China in the summer to attend the on-campus recruitment events, than stay in the UK in face of an ambiguous future and let slip the peak hiring season in China. “It’s time to let go and move on”, they say.
So can I still justify my ambition of staying in the UK? It’s hard to give a positive answer. Brexit spells immediate repercussions for the economic, political and cultural landscapes of the UK. The country that once appealed to me for its cultural diversity, has now become a provincial island fraught with increasing xenophobia and hate crime, drifting towards isolation.