What are the (potential) effects of Brexit for British people living in Spain?

In this blogpost Karen pull together some of the findings from other academic colleagues working with British citizens living in Spain, and their reflections on the effects of Brexit.

All of the below are about British people living in Spain and (to some extent) the effects of Brexit on their lives. Both Joaquin Rodes Garcia and Rebekah Miller have been working with older British people in Spain (Murcia and Andalucia), while Hege Høyer Leivestad has worked with British mobile home and caravan dwellers in Benidorm. All the articles are freely available by following the link in the title. For all the three authors, home and homemaking are important processes in the lives, settlement and sense of belonging for migrants, and all three articles cause is to rethink the simple association of these populations with privilege and free choice. 

Joaquin Rodes Garcia 

Retirement Migrants in Spain: Multilocal Lifestyles and Integration Patterns

It is often assumed that retired migrants live comfortably between the United Kingdom and their property in Spain, staying poorly integrated in the host society. However, do they really compose a privileged transnational group? Can we consider retired migrants’ communities to be fully established in the Spanish society? Do the Britons have different characteristics compared to other retirement migrants? This article deals with the earlier questions, leading the reader to consider the impacts of Brexit on the elderly Britons living abroad. The article makes use of empirical data taken from the MIRES-3I research project, focused on multilocality to explain international retirement migrants’ lifestyle and their social integration in Spain. Its results show that many of the elderly Britons have their only property in Spain, where they say their home is. The British community seems to be well-established and it is expected that it will be sensitive to any change in the citizenship status that makes retirees’ lifestyle possible.

Joaquin Rodes Garcia, Assistant lecturer at the Catholic University San Antonio of Murcia, Spain, has been working with British (and other Northern Europeans) living in Spain for many years. His PhD, which was awarded in 2009, was titled Europeans between migration and tourism. Mobility and registration patterns among senior European citizens in the Region of Murcia (Spain).A monograph based on this work Residir aquí y allí. Estudio socioantropológico de la movilidad europeawas published in 2011 (Ediciones Isabor. Colección Movilidades). 

More recently Joaquin has been working with Vicente Rodriguez on a large project about international retirement migration to Spain. This paper in Migraciones Internacionalesemerges from that work. The paper is in Spanish, with an abstract in English. 

Rebekah Miller (Un)settling home during the Brexit process.  On the uncertainties of Brexit for older British people’s understandings of home

Building upon extensive literature on the concept of home, this article uses narrative interviews to argue that home can be (un)settled. The process of (un)settling home can occur in relation to various circumstances such as widowhood, ill health, or geopolitical changes. This article presents (un)settling home as a process constituted by three intertwined dimensions; practical and material, emotional, and temporal. This article explores how the Brexit process is (un)settling home for older British migrants, a population of lifestyle migrants, living in Spain. This geopolitical event has an ongoing destabilising and unsettling effect upon individual’s sense of home and belonging. Brexit is a process experienced simultaneously by older British migrants living across the European Union. Consequently, this article provides useful insights into how these relatively privileged migrants negotiate an unprecedented shift in their status, their uncertain future as lifestyle migrants, and their understandings of home in this shifting geopolitical context.

Rebekah Miller is a PhD candidate at Edinburgh University where she is working hard to complete her thesis: Disrupted lifestyle ‘dreams’?: Exploring the everyday lives of older British migrants during the Brexit process. This ethnographic research focuses on older lifestyle migrants living in the Costa del Sol, Spain. It explores a selection of experiences and events that can disrupt these migrants’ ongoing lifestyle ‘dream’. These experiences include the implications of the shifting geopolitical climate of Brexit for this relatively privileged migrant population. Rebekah also considers how individuals negotiate loss, grief, and widowhood as older migrants in Spain. Finally, her thesis explores the emotional geographies of support and failure for those attempting to use digital communication technologies as part of their ongoing migration ‘project’. 

Rebekah recently published this article in a special issue on Negotiating Brexit of the journal Population, Space and Place. Thearticle considers the implications of the uncertainties of the Brexit process upon older British migrants’ understandings of home. It argues that the Brexit process is ‘unsettling’ home for older British migrants who have migrated within Europe. 

Hege Høyer Leivestad

Campsite Migrants: British Caravanners and Homemaking in Benidorm, 

Based on ethnographic fieldwork amongst British migrants on a Spanish Camping and caravan site, this article argues that the home is a productive entrance point for understanding the dynamics of this form of migration. Whilst campsites are planned and legally regulated as leisure spheres for mobile camping, touring caravans provide an affordable option for migrants otherwise excluded from the Spanish property market. In this article, I show how economic activities are centred on the caravan homemaking wherein mobile dwellings are transformed into – and used as – immobile living units. The making of the caravan home is furthermore central to the shaping and maintenance of social networks of support that are based on ‘handyman’ manual labour and a cash economy.

Hege Høyer Leivestad is Postdoctoral Researcher in Social Anthropology at Stockholm University and Visiting researcher at London School of Economics and Political Science. Leivestad’s PhD research examined issues of homes and materiality through an ethnographic study of mobile dwellings and caravans in Europe. A monograph based on this work Caravans: Lives on Wheels in Contemporary Europe has been published by Bloomsbury Academic (2018). 

Hege thinks that Brexit may affect British in Spain by adding layers of uncertainty to what many working-class migrants find to be a confusing legal context. As such, Brexit moves on a continuum of already existing gaps of knowledge and rumours regarding issues such as social entitlements, benefits and rights to residence. British residents on Spanish campsites have also taken huge risks when investing their savings in temporary, mobile dwellings after selling their property in the UK. Most of them remain outside the official statistics, with ‘no fixed abode’ nor in the UK or in Spain. It remains to be seen how the consequences of Brexit can affect these individuals’ plans of eventually returning, or for that sake secure a future on wheels abroad. 

Published in the Nordic Journal of Migration Research, this article was, in August 2018, chosen as the best article published in the Nordic Journal of Migration Research during the two-year period between the Nordic Migration Research conferences.

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