At first, Elena Remigi thought getting British citizenship would be a formality. Though she was born in Milan, she had lived in the United Kingdom for more than a decade. She owned a house, she had a car, and she even got permanent residency—an arduous process that involves filling out an 85-page application and providing a stack of documents to prove eligibility. But after Britons voted in June 2016 for the U.K. to leave the European Union, she thought the long and expensive process to get a British passport would be worth it.
It was so easy before. In much the same way an American from, say, Nebraska, could pick up and move to New York without having to go through an immigration process, let alone change citizenship, one point of the European Union was to give all European citizens the same kinds of rights to live and work anywhere in Europe. Moving from Milan to London was a lot like moving from Omaha to Ithaca. Except it’s not anymore—but nobody’s exactly sure yet what it’s supposed to be like.
The practical implications of this became clear to Remigi when she filed her citizenship application, which included sheafs of utility bills and a detailed list of flights she had taken in and out of the country dating back five years. But that wasn’t enough. She’s a stay-at-home parent. “I had to prove my existence here, and since I do not work in a specific place, they couldn’t prove that I was really a resident,” she told me. “I have a house, I have a family here, I own a car, and still I had to send another three kilos of additional evidence just to prove that I existed here.”