The children of a Stornoway man were forced to sit UK citizenship tests because their mother is German, it was reported in The Herald newspaper yesterday (October 20).
Consultant psychiatrist Claudia Grimmer arrived in Scotland more than 25 years ago. She was working in Stornoway when she met her husband, Angus Macrae, and completed her medical degree in Germany before returning to the UK to embark on her psychiatry specialism.
Below is an edited version of the report from The Herald.
Married to a Scot, a mother of three with 25 years spent living and working in Scotland, consultant psychiatrist Claudia Grimmer would seem to be precisely the kind of EU national Britain would be desperate to keep.
But when the Brexit vote prompted East German-born Dr Grimmer, aged 51, to apply for British citizenship, she found herself in a complex, frustrating and dehumanising process.
She was forced to sit a language test to prove she could speak English – despite having letters to show she had sat psychiatry exams here – and had her glasses and Fitbit watch removed and checked to ensure she didn’t have access to technology to cheat.
Dr Grimmer, who works as a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist for NHS Fife, has now also called for greater support for EU nationals working in vital health services from medical organisations and the NHS.
Dr Grimmer arrived in Scotland in 1992. She was working in Stornoway when she met her husband, Angus Macrae, and completed her medical degree in Germany before returning to the UK to embark on her psychiatry specialism.
But while she recalls feeling “completely integrated”, the Brexit vote left her “quite paralysed” and angry that she had been denied the chance to vote.
She applied for British citizenship earlier this year amid concerns that she might be asked to leave the country when Britain formally leaves the EU.
She added: “By then I will have had close to 30 years of contributing to the country and I didn’t want to be in position where people suddenly say ‘we don’t want you any more, you don’t qualify for certain care’”.
“When I read what I have to do for the citizenship test I was incensed,” she said. “I had to go for a language test. My job is so language-based, I sat psychiatry exams here, it felt ridiculous. I didn’t want to spend an afternoon and £150 sitting a language test.”
Despite producing letters that supported her, she says she was told she had to sit the test. “I spoke about life in Scotland and I used some colloquialisms,” she said. “I got a tick on a box that meant I was adjusted, settled and with a grasp of the English language. It would be funny if I hadn’t had to do it.
“I also had to show my passport and it was examined under a light. I had to give up my Fitbit and they looked at my glasses to check I didn’t have some kind of Google Translate device.”
Her two older children, who have German passports, also applied for British passports and were tested, despite having lived in Scotland all their lives.
“The children have got a Scottish surname but they had to prove they lived here and were asked questions like ‘what is the house where you live built of’ and ‘where is the local swimming pool?’”
A British Medical Association Scotland spokesman said it has called for uncertainty over Brexit’s impact on EU nationals to be resolved: “The ongoing uncertainty over the future status of doctors from other European countries who are working in our NHS is extremely damaging and has understandably caused a great deal of anxiety and stress for those affected.”
The reaction from readers on The Herald page was almost totally hostile, with contributors asking what the fuss was about. One contributor commented in detail, explaining her similar experience and the equally hostile experience.
Jenny Forrest very much reflect the responses I got when sharing my own experiences from the year of applications to gain citizenship (permanent residency certificate application, citizenship application and finally citizenship ceremony) with tests and written evidence including demands for exact dates out of the country for the last 16 years.
"For many Brits it is not possible to fully understand what this process demands, not least in time, nor the financial and psychological stress it puts on people. For non EU immigrants this is not new, albeit it is now harder and about twice as expensive as it was a few years ago (£1400).
"What makes this extra demeaning, frustrating and unfair is that as EU citizens we were already integrated, accepted, permanent residents. After 16 years working for the NHS, with a Scottish husband and two children this was suddenly taken from me as it was with the lady in the article.
"I could no longer trust that my contribution to the country would secure me a pension and healthcare or keep safe my family life. That is a lot to wake up to!
"Maybe the difference in ease of immigration between EU and non-EU nationals is wrong too but the conditions are known on entry to the UK. For EU citizens this changed overnight.
"My application was successful after 1 year but I still struggle to rid myself of the bitter taste from the experience. Only time can fade the memory of this and the Scottish Government is certainly helping to heal the wounds where Westminster have failed."