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A growing scholarly literature describes people who moved from Europe’s East to its West as racialised. Others speak of ‘migratization’ or ‘xenophobia’. Many of these contributions have in common that they conceive of discrimination as occurring after migration. What is more, they focus on the attitudinal dimension of ‘prejudice’, as expressed in the media or the narratives of East–West movers themselves. What thereby slips from view is that racism has geopolitical-economic and legal dimensions, and structures life opportunities. This article explores how categories such as ‘Eastern European’ are invoked, deployed and how they are put to work – via policy or the law. The analysis shows that neoliberal policies have attributed a distinctive positionality to ‘Eastern Europeans’ in West European racial hierarchies. I argue that people from Europe’s East are distinctively, yet ambiguously racialised, and discuss facets of this ambiguity. Most notably, they are inferiorised within Europe, but often positioned within global racialised categories of ‘Europeanness’. This racialisation is not a product of twenty-first century mobilities but reflects and reproduces the peripheralisation of Europe’s East. Of course, racialisation shapes everyday lives after migration; yet, it also channels the life opportunities of those born in the East over the course of generations.