SINCE the 2016 EU referendum, we have had a few hard starts to the day. The wet and blurry morning of February 19 was one of them and felt like a punch in the stomach.

As we poured our tea, we read the policy statement of the UK’s future points-based immigration system. As we stirred our porridge, we tried to make sense of this document. As the day went by, we had many unanswered questions, and an inextricable feeling of scunner and frustration.

We have both been proud to call Scotland home for five years and nearly two years respectively. Through our respective work as a tour guide and a freelance journalist, and our common brainchild Ecosse Toujours, a podcast in French in which we share our knowledge of Scotland and our experience of living here, we like to think that we make a positive contribution to the country.

We have retained a strong French identity, that you’ll see in our little everyday habits and hear in the way we speak. But that doesn’t prevent us from belonging here. That is why knowing that under these new immigration rules, we would be barred from entering the country, broke our heart.

Sarah: Like many EU citizens emigrating to the UK, I took what is unfairly classified as a “low-skilled job”, the kind of occupation that the Conservative Government doesn’t want future immigrants to take anymore. Low-skilled? I wasn’t. After a few years of studying, travelling and working in various newsrooms as a journalist and an editor, at age 25, I decided to move to Edinburgh. I applied to a low-paid job as a receptionist, where no qualifications were needed – but I still held a masters degree in journalism and communication. I then learned new skills from day one: welcoming customers, tidying rooms in no time, finding solutions with a smile. I found it incredibly rewarding to be able to say, at the end of the day: “Today, I have fed 20 people and welcomed another 30”. I felt helpful, useful, and efficient. I acquired other skills: managing sales, dealing with group bookings, budgeting the next months. I hired dozens of European workers, and so many of them blew my mind. I learned about Scottish law, about the economy, about management. These were all new, real skills I could never have developed in any business school.

I then started working on my own projects: I created French Kilt, a website designed to share my Scottish adventures – I couldn’t fight my desire to keep on writing any longer. I became a freelance tour guide, an activity I conducted as a sole trader, on top of my full-time job as a hotel manager. I applied to the Blue Badge course, monitored by the Scottish Tourist Guides Association.

I am now just about to end this demanding training project, already working full-time as a tourist guide, creating my first limited company, and planning to hire staff.

Assa: I would also be rejected by this new system if it was already in place. I first came to Scotland as an Erasmus student. Ironically, Brexit made me come back in 2018. I thought it would be the perfect time to write about the politics, culture and society in Scotland, and try to demystify the country a bit. Moving to Scotland and rebuilding a life here was exactly what I needed; it made me grow as a person, and it gave me some hope. The people closest to me know that the real reason I decided to come here is because I needed to write good news from time to time!

Home Secretary Priti Patel claims that the new UK immigration system is designed to attract “the brightest and the best around the globe”. After months of being demonised and called names such as “queue jumpers”, it is hard not to take it personally. Are we meant to understand that unless you are a nuclear physicist and/or have a high-paying job, you will not be a valuable addition to the country?

We are not sure we are either the brightest or the best, but we are sure of this: workers in the hospitality and tourism sector, in medical and care occupations, in the creative industries or in agriculture, stay-at-home parents taking care of their family or pensioners, all these people are valuable.

One way or the other, be it through their work or their participation in their communities, they are all contributing. So many of them coming from the EU are incredibly skilled. They have degrees, resilience, the guts to move to another country. Something the UK seems to forget is that people can choose where they want to go, and it will be competing with other countries to attract “the brightest and the best” on its soil. After all, as European citizens and thanks to the freedom of movement, we could have decided to move to Germany, Ireland, Spain or Italy.

With such restrictive rules, what message is the UK sending to the world? We don’t think it is a message of openness and hospitality. It is not particularly attractive.

One example of how the 2016 EU referendum changed everything: before the vote, Sarah’s boss offered to send her to Cornwall to launch a new hotel. After seeing the outcome – over 56% for Leave – she had to announce to her boss that she could not possibly move there knowing people strongly voted against “people like her”. He was relieved Sarah spoke first. Since the results, the project had been cancelled.

We think of all the talents, future projects, wild dreams and relationships that Scotland and the UK will be losing with this new system. We are more than just taxpayers and workers; we are the friends, the partners, the neighbours and families of people in these islands. We are part of who you are, and you are part of who we are. This is not just an issue for immigrants. This is about all of us, as a society. It feels like a deplorable waste.

We feel incredibly grateful for the friendship and the solidarity we have been shown in the past few months. We now acutely measure and understand the importance of community.

Instead of leaving, we chose to do another French thing: “se serrer les coudes”. Literally, squeeze our elbows with yours. Stick together. Be the link between the people of Scotland today and the many aspiring New Scots. We trust you will continue to be on our side. We’re glad that in return, whatever the future holds for us all, you are letting us be on your side too.