INTERVIEW/Ambassador Mihalache: I assure all fellow citizens their rights in UK remain unchanged, at least in transition period

Romanian Ambassador in London Dan Mihalache assures the Romanian citizens living in the UK that their rights will remain unchanged, at least in the transitional year following the official exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union. The diplomat states, in an interview with AGERPRES, that over 430,000 Romanians who wish to live in the UK have registered online for the special status required, 30pct of them applying for the resident status. The United Kingdom officially leaves the European Union on Friday, at midnight - Brussels time, respectively 23.00 - London time. AGERPRES: Ambassador, one day before the zero point of Brexit, can you tell how many Romanians have registered for the special, mandatory status? Dan Mihalache: I would say that is an impressive figure. On December 31, last year, there were 437,000 Romanians, above our expectations. And this figure is likely to increase and we will have the result at the end of January. At this rate, I believe that at least 100,000 Romanians will register. There may even be more. The figure is surprisingly high. AGERPRES: Do you have an estimate of how much this means in the Romanian community in the UK? Because in the UK there are no estimates of nationality. Dan Mihalache: I have operated with various figures, there is no official statistics. The UK is extremely decentralized and it is very difficult to contact an institution that will give you an exact figure. We have to do some kind of crossover between the various figures, whether it is the tax authority or the National Health System. We have always estimated that the number of Romanians is over half a million. However, after completing this registration process for resident or pre-resident status, it is possible to find that there are actually many more. AGERPRES: Do you have estimates as to how many percent of the Romanians who registered received pre-resident status and how much (pre-settled and settled)? Dan Mihalache: I understood that this is a ratio between 30 and 70pct, so 30pct would be those who received the status of resident or applied for the status of resident, which means that they have a seniority of residence of more than five years on the territory of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and 70pct the status of pre-resident, which means that their seniority is shorter than this period, and then, when five years pass, they will upgrade, to use computer language, to the status of resident. AGERPRES: Romanians have time to register until December 31 for the special status. Can you make a calendar? Dan Mihalache: The calendar is quite simple, namely that during this year, the traffic regime, the right to work, the right to education remain unchanged. Romanians can continue to come to the UK, until December 31, 2020, under the same conditions as before, following the effective registration period to be extended until June 30, 2021, and, probably after that time, to enter under a different immigration regime from the one that exists. AGERPRES: Which was said to be a regime based on a certain score. In a way, the British authorities will choose the best professionals. Dan Mihalache: There is a debate here on this topic. Even in these days, a report of an expert commission on the issue of the immigration regime was published and, as a rule, from our experience, these reports constitute a basis for future legislation, the debate being to what extent the criteria will be restrictive. I do not know if it is about the best of them, because the need for the market is quite diverse, the need for workforce. It is not possible to choose only doctors, engineers, teachers, nurses but of course, the market here requires other occupational areas. But in the end, we will see what it will be like. Some have considered that the proposals are too restrictive and require a certain type of relaxation, but probably there will be conditions regarding the knowledge of the language, other things related to their personal status, which, after all, is not a bad thing, maybe it can keep us from an area that does not necessarily do us good in the UK, an area of begging, of our fellow citizens who have a hard time mastering the language and who always need us in relation to the authorities. The story is more complicated. AGERPRES: This area you were talking about was very present in the British press a few years ago. Now, how present is this area? Dan Mihalache: There were also political reasons, and the British press also has a certain tendency to be very marked by tabloidization and of course it is simpler to present the things that bother the British public, than to present the things that are disturbing the British public than to present successful things. There is a great distance between the perception of the press and the perception of those with whom you talk, whether it is universities, where Romanian students are highly valued, or whether it is the National Health System, where the doctors and nurses who come from Romania are very appreciated, whether it is industrial areas or services, hotels, restaurants and sometimes, myself, especially as an official representative of the Romanian state, who are obliged to have different dialogues with different segments of the company from the United Kingdom, I find this difference quite frustrating between what is sometimes written about immigration coming from Romania and what those who benefit from this immigration, the services of Romanians, tell me. AGERPRES: In your discussions with the Romanian community, after the vote for Brexit, what have you felt were the Romanians' fears? Dan Mihalache: Fears are also based on certain rumors. As such rumors circulate in more critical moments, regardless of how much information effort we put in as an embassy, either through meetings in different areas we know are more populated with Romanians all around the territory of the United Kingdom, our consulates, our honorific consulates made this effort. But the British authorities as well invested a lot in explaining the state of things that will happen after Brexit. The fears regard, firstly, the freedom of circulation. The questions are of this sort: "If we'll be allowed or not in Dover", "Can we still cross the border or can't we", "If we go home for the holidays, can we return", "If, when we come back, we need visas". It's the group of fears that regards free circulation. There is a group of fears that have circulated, that regard the right to work. "Will we be fired from our jobs or not," "Will we be expelled?" - let's say the extreme areas. I can assure all our citizens that, in the terms of this agreement, at least in the transition period, their situation in what regards rights - the right to free circulation, the right to work, the right to social assistance - will remain unchanged. AGERPRES: When it comes to the students that are studying in the United Kingdom, have started education in the UK or wish to start, what can you tell them? Because they could end up between the transition period and the period after transition. Dan Mihalache: No, it's very clear that in what regards those who have entered this system until the moment of Brexit, they will continue their studies without any change in status. Probably, it will be interesting to see to what extent in the future, at the end of this transition period, the conditions of a financial nature will remain the same. Because the United Kingdom was attractive not only through the perspective of the quality of higher education, but also through the perspective of financial conditions, which were more accessible to a category of Romanian youths who want to study abroad, than in other European states, where the university taxes were much higher. There were some mechanisms for loans and for someone who comes from a family without impressive material resources, studying was accessible in Great Britain. But I believe there will be a pressure of the universities to maintain a system that is pretty attractive and flexible, because the universities in the UK are a pretty powerful "industry" and a diminishment of the number of European students would affect their activity. Before the interview, I was actually looking at a statistics and I believe we're somewhere in the first places, the first five or six places from the countries of Eastern Europe that have students here - approximately 9,700 students from Romania. AGERPRES: In this transition period, in fact, after January 31 there will be EU - UK negotiations, but also between the United Kingdom and each country separately. What are Romania's strong cards, from your perspective? Dan Mihalache: These are components that will have to be resolved at the community level, at the level of the European Union and components of bilateral relations, because Romania cannot ignore its quality as a member state of the European Union. It cannot, for example, negotiate separately from the European Union a different tariff regime with the United Kingdom. In fact, the key of the European Union's discussion with the United Kingdom is the area of goods circulation, the tariff agreements that will be signed. Bilaterally, our coordination remains, as a strong point, in matters of foreign policy, especially in what regards the eastern vicinity, the Balkans and the support that the United Kingdom grants us for the geopolitics of the Black Sea in general and the security, defence, information exchange area, the area that regards cooperation police matters is also very important. These are some of the domains, of the pillars on which our bilateral partnership is based on, which represent a result obtained in the past ten years and which must continue. In this context, I can tell you we are in the process of redacting a new strategic partnership document, because the last document that we signed started from the status of Romania and the United Kingdom as members of the European Union, so it's clear that there is need for a new text that will have some important pillars: on the one hand, the guarantees in what regards the Romanian citizens, on the other hand, the continuation of cooperation in the realms of defence, security, foreign policy, police cooperation. And thirdly, I would say that we can use this opportunity to open up areas less explored, to amplify the bilateral relation, on the economic component, on the component of institutional university cooperation, on the component of scientific research, on the cultural component. AGERPRES: Because the entire international press described Brexit as a break-up, which seems as though it was an amiable break-up, after the European Parliament session, can you make an imagination exercise - what does Romania leave in the UK's heart and the UK in Romania's heart? Dan Mihalache: It's a question that requires a bit of imagination. Ultimately, Romania was an important strategic partner in the area of the Black Sea, and the United Kingdom represents not only an attractive tourist destination, but also a space of opportunities for many Romanian families. AGERPRES: I was thinking also of the fact that Prince Charles was an "ambassador" of Romania. Dan Mihalache: Probably the best ambassador of Romania in the United Kingdom and of the United Kingdom in Romania was His Royal Highness, Prince Charles and his involvement in various projects that regard the cultural and historical Romanian heritage. Beyond the support that Prince Charles, but also other organizations gave in the area of cultural and historical patrimony, as well as environment preservation, there are areas that we know less of, such as the support granted to children with disabilities. The Britons have started and have supported a lot of organizations from Romania. I will give a few examples, Hope and Homes for Children, which was born as a project in the UK and which contributed to the deinstitutionalisation, as they say in very technical language, of many of those children's odious homes inherited from the communist period and the transformation of those mammoth institutions into a place much more adequate to spend childhood: small homes which were bought. I would refer to other projects that had success, such as palliative care in Romania, which is a far less known area - what, for example, Hospice (House of Hope) is doing with the various homes in which those living out their last days can benefit from medical and spiritual assistance in the country.AGERPRES(RO - author: Oana Ghita, editor: Mirela Barbulescu; EN - authors: Bogdan Gabaroi, Razvan-Adrian Pandea, editor: Maria Voican)

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