Post-migration transitions and pathways to citizenship for EU youth in the UK amidst Brexit debates, challenges and anticipations

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Geographical & Earth Sciences


This study will be the first UK-wide study of EU-born young people's (aged 16-26) experiences of education, work and training in the context of the UK withdrawal from the EU. The number of young people from Europe growing up in UK has risen sharply over past 15 years, particularly since the accession of 10 East-Central European states to the EU. These young people have spent their formative years experiencing multiple transitions and border-crossings related to moving home, learning English, changing education systems, finding work in a precarious and austere economic climate and forming key relationships in the context of divisive political rhetoric surrounding immigration. How do this sizeable cohort of young people navigate these transitions in different parts of the UK, as they develop plans for the future and pathways to citizenship? Existing inequalities in education and employment, combined with new challenges fuelled by Brexit, are shaping the choices of EU nationals about whether to remain or leave the UK (Lulle et al., 2016; King & Williams, 2017), with a dramatic decline in the level of EU immigration since the Brexit referendum in 2016 (ONS, 2019). Given the positive fiscal impact of EU migration to the UK and the reliance on this labour supply in key sectors of the economy (Wadsworth, 2018), there is an urgent need to better understand young people's education and employment trajectories and how employers are planning for and responding to potential changes in workforce demographics after Brexit.

A multi-disciplinary team of researchers will combine expertise in migration and population studies, education and social policy to design and produce a series of significant research outcomes. First, the study will review the evidence on educational and employment pathways and challenges for EU-born young people through a systematic analysis of existing data sets and targeted, sustained engagement with practitioners and policy makers to identify key policy and practice challenges.

Second, the study will produce new longitudinal data over a 3-year period on the changing aspirations, experiences and outcomes of EU-born young people in education, training and employment to highlight how their plans evolve and what barriers they face and sometimes overcome.

Third, the study will use a participatory research approach to explore young people's perceptions and experiences of settlement and citizenship in all four nations of the UK, in the context of Brexit. Involving young people as co-researchers, the study will explore their aspirations for the future; sense of belonging and citizenship in the UK; perspectives on potential constitutional change in the UK and the EU; and engagements with social movements and digital activism.

The research offers original data on how EU-born young people living in diverse geographical locations adapt to the multiple transitions of growing up as a migrant in the context of regional political transformation. We will consider how these dynamics actively shape pathways to citizenship and a sense of belonging in the UK, or particular parts of it. The proposed study fills a gap in research by employing an intersectional approach to analysing EU-born young people's experience of Brexit alongside key youth transitions, with potential to inform UK-wide and devolved policy and practice tackling the challenge of youth marginalisation and migrant integration. In depth longitudinal data on young people's educational aspirations, work experiences and citizenship practices will provide insight into how 'integrated' EU-born migrant youth feel in different nations of the UK, connected to various representations of 'nation' that circulate in policy, political and public discourses. Importantly, the study will also address the relative absence of migrant youth voices in public debate and provide policy makers and the public with a more rigorous understand of the everyday lives of young migrants.

Planned Impact

The plans to ensure impact and how we will capture this are detailed in the 'Pathways to Impact' document in the attachment. In summary, through the proposed activities, a range of audiences will benefit from participation in events and opportunities to share good practice in supporting migrant groups and developing service delivery and policy targeted at the inclusion of migrant youth, including:

1. Practitioners working with children and families
The project will advance understanding of EU youth transitions through education, work and pathways to citizenship in the context of political transformation in the UK and draw key implications for improved support to avoid their marginalisation. In order to facilitate these processes, practitioners from a range of services such as education, social work, health and youth services will be invited to actively participate in challenge-led workshops, combining delivery of research-informed findings with opportunities for sharing good practice.

2. Policy makers and service managers
As the project has significant potential to inform policy in areas of youth citizenship, education and labour policy and migration management, policy makers and service managers will be invited to participate in Policy Challenge workshops where they will identify opportunities to implement findings from the research into policy and practice. The planned events will provide opportunities for dialogue between services and policy-making organisations at local and national level. Our data will inform key policy areas including educational attainment and inclusion, post-migration adaptation and integration, and youth participation in decision making. We will work closely with our existing contacts to reach policy makers and service managers from a range of local authorities, government bodies and services.

3. Migrant EU nationals and the general public
EU-born young people will also benefit from participating in the research. We will invite 20 young people to research training workshops, giving them an opportunity to co-produce research and shape current debates, practices and services. Youth focused infographics, podcasts and a conference will be designed and run with young people and publicised through a social media campaign. This will contribute to a more rigorous and ethical public understanding of issues facing EU nationals aiming to challenge misconceptions about migration in the UK.

We anticipate our impact activities will have a number of long-term impacts, including:

a) Advance understanding of youth transitions between education, training and work to help shape policies in education and employment and plan better delivery of services (eg. ESOL, Careers, Unions) and develop more inclusive policies for managing migration at the national, devolved and local scale
b) Provide an understanding of the barriers to education, employment and training for EU youth which will help education and training providers and employers to improve access and provision for those previously excluded and reduce inequalities
c) Highlight the effects of political instability on youth aspirations, participation and opportunity and young people's strategies to mitigate against multiple insecurities - help inform youth work, school/college counselling services, including in relation to mental health provision for the most at-risk groups
d) Shape public understanding of migrant childhoods and youth with potential to challenge myths surrounding migration that have been perpetuated through the Brexit discourse
e) Encourage youth leadership, autonomy and active citizenship by facilitating participatory training to enable young people to gain research skills and tell their own story
f) Facilitate sustained collaboration between agencies supporting young people's progress in education, employment and citizenship and wider policy & academic networks. This will enhance the potential for future collaborations.


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Description Workshop on Polish Migrants in the UK post-Brexit at Polish Social and Cultural Association (London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Our talk reached an audience of 40-50 delegates ranging from representatives from Polish cultural and religious organisations, Polish Embassy in London, Polish Universities, third sector agencies and the general public with an interest in Polish migration. The workshop was designed to share research on Polish migration in the UK among a broad set of stakeholders, provide networking opportunities for follow up meetings and research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022