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Foreign-born workers in the UK share their fears for the future

Uncertainty prevails in Britain after Brexit has left immigrants feeling vulnerable. The service sector, a large part of the British economy, is also a big employer of foreigners, which means these workers may be hit hard. Hari Sreenivasan reports from London about some of their worries.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    "The Masters Diner" in central London serves up hearty English meals to a steady stream of regular customers. Manager Sergio Freitas is originally from Portugal, moved to Britain 20 years ago. This was his land of opportunity.

  • SERGIO FREITAS:

    At the time that I came, it was very easy, because it was part of the EU. Until today, I've never done papers. I've only had the Portuguese passport. Now it's going to be much more difficult. We're going to need to apply for visas and everything, all of those stories. It's going to be much more difficult to go out and to come in.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Since he arrived in 1996, Sergio's work has been steady and upwardly mobile. And he lives near a large extended family, 80 cousins in all.

  • SERGIO FREITAS:

    The job has been the best thing I have, which has been great. For 10 years, I've been working for the same company. So I've got a house, car, I've got everything, family. Don't know exactly what's gonna happen.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So many members of the service industry in London are foreign-born, and for them the referendum means uncertainty for their livelihoods and their futures. In London, almost three-quarters of hospitality sector workers are from somewhere else.

    Twenty-five year-old waitress Michaela Faia emigrated from Romania five years ago. She's three months pregnant with her first child and is now unsure, after her baby is born, if they'll be able to stay.

  • MICHAELA FAIA:

    I'm a bit scared in one way. I will see if I can apply for my residence, since I have already more than five years since I live here so…

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    She hopes to obtain a permanent residency card, but if she does not get it, she does not want to go back to Romania.

  • MICHAELA FAIA:

    Hard because I don't have so many opportunities to find a job. But we'll see for the future.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Another concern is the weakening of the British pound since the referendum. That could lead to inflation…pinching workers' pocketbooks.

  • SERGIO FREITAS:

    Everything is going to go up. Prices, I don't know what's going to happen, but I think it's going to be a catastrophe.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    George, who gave only his first name, is a regular customer here, and sees EU membership differently. He voted for Britain to leave…hoping his future might be more like his past.

  • GEORGE:

    I voted for it?

  • PRODUCER:

    Why?

  • GEORGE:

    Why? Well, I don't think we should be doing what other countries tell us to do. I think life was better before 1974, when I was younger.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    George believes immigrants, often willing to work for lower wages, cost the native British jobs.

  • GEORGE:

    I think there's too many immigrants over here. I don't mind them. They're doing their job, but they're still doing English people out of work.

  • SWATI DHINGRA:

    It is absolutely incorrect to say that 'EU immigrants that are taking my jobs away from me.'

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    london school of economics professor swati dhingra says historical evidence shows otherwise, and actually foreign-born restaurant workers are among those likely to feel the "brexit" effects acutely.

  • SWATI DHINGRA:

    The service sector is 80 percent of the British economy, so we're talking about if something happens in services it will be felt everywhere.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Paul Scully is a conservative party member of parliament representing a borough in south London that voted to leave the UK. He split with Prime Minister David Cameron to support the leave campaign.

  • PAUL SCULLY MP:

    We need to manage our immigration numbers, but in a fair way.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    MP Scully says he expects immigrants already in Britain will be safe.

    We went to a shop yesterday where the manager has been here from Portugal for 20 years. His waitress is from Romania, she's been here for 5. She's pregnant with her first child and now there's a cloud of uncertainty she going to stay, her child is going to be British or not…

  • PAUL SCULLY MP:

    Yeah, I think there's been a lot of rhetoric in this campaign. I don't think anyone in the mainstream is saying that we would do anything with the people who are already here. Who are already providing services that are supporting our economy, enriching our culture and communities. They need to be welcomed. And actually they need to hear the message — that they are very welcome.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    But for foreign workers like Sergio, the coming separation from the EU leaves him feeling uneasy.

  • SERGIO FREITAS:

    I'm really not sure what's gonna happen, but everyone at this point is very scared of it. So we're gonna see what's gonna happen. For the future.

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