Dr. Athanasia Chalari is a Senior Visiting Fellow, Hellenic Observatory, LSE, United Kingdom.

Research Keywords: Brexit; Greek Diaspora; Identity transformation; Britishness.


Transforming from “European Citizen” to “International Immigrant” Identity after Brexit: The Case of Greek Diaspora in the UK

Research Focus: One of the aftermaths of Brexit, has affected those UK residents who had been classified as “EU citizens” prior Brexit, and re-classified as “International Immigrants” after Brexit. Such unique reclassification of identity, deserves further exploration in its own right and as this article shall argue, entail the engagement with the exploration of the ideas of Britishness and non-Brutishness in terms of ethnic, national, citizenship and immigration identity as well as nativism, through a critical literature review and the unitarization of pre-existing statistical data. This article argues that the example of Greek diaspora in UK may shed light in the meaning making of this identity transition, as a case of “EU citizenship” identity transforming to “International Immigrant” identity.

Intellectual motivation: The legislative impact of Brexit b concerned UK citizens travelling or residing within the EU, and EU residents travelling or residing in the UK; it also involved economic, political, diplomatic as well as sociocultural consequences. The former has attracted most of the attention (Barrutia et al 2021; Hudson, 2022) whereas the later remains an under-researched territory. This study aims in focusing on a rather unintentional and unique socio-cultural consequence of Brexit, which may not have been observed in any former historical context, due to the uniqueness of Brexit per se. This concerns the identity transformation between the formerly classified “EU citizens” residing in UK prior to Brexit, who have been re-classified as “International Immigrants” after Brexit.

According to Pratsinakis (2021) possibly most of the Greeks migrating to UK because of the Greek crisis have not received the UK citizenship (yet) and this makes them feel rather isolated in terms of their inability to participate politically in UK through voting in National elections. Based on the “SEESOX-GDUK research,” Pratsinakis further explains that Greeks in UK (who are correctly termed in this publication as “immigrants” rather than “EU citizens”) may feel more loneliness in the ages of 30-40 and 50-60 and he highlights that language is not a social barrier for them; in contrast language proficiency has assisted in their positive economic growth. Based on the same research, two thirds of Greeks residing in UK are employed most of them in positions related to their qualifications. Based on the same study (SEESOX-GDUK research), almost half of the Greeks residing in UK have experienced some short of discrimination, whereas this percentage slightly drops among London residents. Pratsinakis notes the potential link of the increased xenophobia after Brexit, which may be associated with what this study has referred to as the aftermaths of Brexit relating to an emerging Nativism depicted through the distinction between “Britishness’ and non-Britishness.” In the case of Greeks relocating to UK because of the Greek Crisis and up until the enforcement of Brexit (2021), we refer to a characteristic case of former EU citizens who utilised their right of free movement and employment within EU but have consequently been reclassified as International Immigrants after Brexit. Certainly, Greeks have not been the only EU sub-ethnicity experiencing such transformation but have certainly been one of the most characteristic cases of highly educated and skilled workforce which has been reclassified as International Immigrants.

An additionally important piece of data that the “SEESOX-GDUK research” reveals, relates with the ways Greeks self-identify in UK. The study reports that Greeks feel equal proximity both to Greek and British culture (although postgraduate and PhD students feel more disconnected from the British culture). Interestingly, although Greeks have been reporting feelings of proximity towards the British culture, they do not identify as British; in fact, they report intense proximity towards their “Greekness,” primarily associated with friends, family, and the Greek language. In the same vein, data from the Census 21 further confirms that 80% of EU-born residents, arrived in the UK between 2011-2021, were more likely to describe their national identity as being non-UK (Office for National Statistics/ONS, 2023). Therefore, the dominant acknowledgement of those former “EU citizens” (including Greeks), as non-British despite an experienced proximity towards the British culture, forms a rather distinguished finding. According to the discussed literature, Greeks have settled adequately within the UK culture, economy, and political system, have been contributing actively to the country’s highly skilled work force, have been commonly educated through the UK higher educational system themselves and several of them have younger children attending British schools. Therefore, it seems somehow paradoxical for this (and perhaps any) group of non-British UK residents, to have such an overwhelmingly clear self-perception as non-British, given their productive integration within the British culture.

Academic and public significance: Within the context of Brexit, the reclassification of “EU citizens” to “International Immigrants” may be primarily related with the wider tendency in the post-Brexit era, to distinguish between Britishness and non-Britishness within UK. Notably, the Greek Diaspora in UK (and perhaps more EU sub-ethnicities), seem rather accepting of this distinction. The difficulty emerges once their non-Britishness, formerly classified as “EU-citizenship,” has been reclassified as “International Immigration” identity. Such reclassification may seem as a devaluation especially towards certain EU sub-ethnicities like the Greek Diaspora in UK, which has been traditionally contributing highly-skilled workforce since its initial appearance in UK (1800s) and has formed one of the largest ethnic groups educated in UK since 1980s. In cases when identities are devalued by others, Tajfel (1978) argues that groups may develop strategies to “correct” misrecognition and advance positive group identities; and perhaps this is the reason behind the preference of the Greek Diaspora to maintain their “EU citizenship” identity contra the “International Immigration” identity enforced by the British government. Future research may focus on the phenomenological exploration of the lived experiences of EU-born UK residents experiencing such identity transition, as well as the deeper and more detailed exploration of what non-Britishness may stand for and the emerging relevance of this form of otherness in the post-Brexit era.

January 21, 2024


Barrutia Barreto et al. “Economic and Political Reflections on the Brexit effect Europe-Peru Relationship.” On-line journal modelling the new Europe 37 (2021): 121–36.

Hudson, Ray. “‘Levelling up’ in Post-Brexit United Kingdom: Economic Realism or Political Opportunism?” Local Economy 37.1–2 (2022): 50–65.

Office for National Statistics-Census 21 (ONS). 2021. Analysis of social characteristics of international migrants living in England and Wales - Office for National Statistics (

Pratsinakis/Πρατσινάκης, Μ. 2021. «Η Ελληνική Διασπορά στο Ηνωμένο Βασίλειο στα Χρόνια της Κρίσης—Μετανάστευση, Ενσωμάτωση, Σχέσεις με την Ελλάδα και Προοπτική Επιστροφής». Διανέοσις: Οργανισμός Έρευνας και Ανάλυσης.

SEESOX Diaspora Project (2024).

Tajfel, H. 1981. Human Groups and Social Categories: Studies in Social Psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.