Alex’s story

Place of birth: Timisoara, Romania | Moved to the UK: October 2012 | Occupation: Construction site cleaner | Qualifications: Philosophy (BA)

To us Eastern Europeans, any country in Western Europe looks well developed. And in the UK especially, it looks like the government and the system takes care of people, so I thought if I could come over and get a good job, it would be a great opportunity.

This is the second time I have lived in the UK. I had previously worked as a waiter in an Italian restaurant but now I’m doing unqualified, low-skilled work even though I have a degree.

I like living in London: people are open-minded here and not many people notice that I’m an immigrant. At the construction site where I work, they are mainly immigrants too.

When I was a waiter, no one knew I was Romanian. They just assumed I was Italian. On one occasion though, two women came in discussing Romanians and immigrants saying it was a major problem. They mentioned that from January 2014 Romanians and Bulgarians would soon have the right to work in the UK and they clearly weren’t happy about that. I didn’t tell them that I was Romanian.

Another time, I was asked by some customers if I was Italian. I told them that I was Romanian and although they didn’t say anything, they just said ‘oh’ and there was a silence. The conversation just ended.

"It’s no longer just about survival anymore - it’s about opportunity"

There are a lot of Romanian immigrants in London and I think that’s a good thing. It’s good for us of course, but it’s good for the UK, too. Before, Romanians came over even though they didn’t really have the right to work: they did it because they were desperate, they had family back in Romania and they needed to support them. But now with this law, more skilled people will be coming over so that’s surely a good thing for the UK economy. So it’s no longer just about survival anymore - it’s about opportunity.

I know there is a lot of stuff in the media about Romanians and Bulgarians. I try to keep my eyes away from it – I don’t want to read it, because it won’t make me feel good. We also have these kind of stories in Romania too, about other cultures, and so I know there are a lot of lies being said.

But I do find some of the reactions funny, though. When I arrived at the airport in January I overheard two employees talking about us as we got off the plane. They were looking at us and one of them asked, “are you Romanian?” we answered, ‘yes’ and they said “oh no, it’s started!”

The thing is, this attitude isn’t new to us. We are used to it. We always feel that people are better than us. I do feel angry about it when I really think about it. Sometimes, you might be walking down the street and someone realises you are Romanian and you see their reaction. It’s happened before.