For many decades, immigrants and their descendants have contributed to Britain’s social growth and economic development.
Understandably, migrants living in the UK can sometimes experience unease about their role in society. Despite the ongoing upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic and the realities of Brexit settling in, public opinion on migration in the UK remains divided. Often vocalised by negative or unnecessary headlines in the UK media, particularly the tabloids.
The truth is that migrants are an integral part of UK society. Just stop and look around you. Who are the cashiers in your local supermarket, who is driving your bus, who is teaching your children, who are the doctors providing you with medical care – UK society is made up of nationals and migrants (first, second, third generation) working together to support their families and to support the British economy.
Since the 1940s, immigrants and their families have helped rebuild post-war Britain, settling into communities across the UK. After the second world war, Britain had a weakened economy and a shortage of workers, particularly in the construction, manufacturing, and service sectors, all essential in rebuilding the country. This shortage of skilled and manual workers was not helped by a trend in the late 1940s and 1950s of British nationals emigrating to Australia, New Zealand, and Canada to search for a better life. And so, Britain continued and expanded a long-standing tradition of welcoming many immigrants from old colonial countries, particularly the Caribbean, as well as Ireland and mainland Europe.
These migrants, as all migrants do, came willing and able to work, with a desire to make a better life. While there was a natural tendency in the early years to congregate in communities similar to their original culture, migrants eventually settled into the greater community, bringing their traditions with them.
If you have recently migrated to the UK, it may be challenging to see how you will positively contribute to your new society. From adapting to a new country, a new culture and maybe even a new language, there are also many steps to secure the visa required to remain in the UK. The whole process can be overwhelming, and it can be hard to imagine where you will be in five months, never mind five years from now. However, through associations such as ‘TogetherintheUK” and other migrant related organisations, you will hear many stories of migrants who have formed happy and productive new lives in the UK and who have fully integrated into a new community, while still retaining their cultural heritage. And remember, some of the best of British came from migrants.
Let’s take, for instance, the UK’s love of Indian curry. In 1970, it was estimated that there were about 1,200 Indian restaurants in the UK; today, there are more than 10,000, with many specialising in native regional cuisines. However, the real boom for Indian restaurants came in the 1970s when Indian restaurants catering for south Asian immigrants adapted their cuisine for the working-class native clientele and very shortly, “going for a curry” became a British national pastime that remains a favourite. In fact, Bengali migrant Sake Dean Mahomed specifically designed the Chicken Tikka Masala to cater for European taste buds. And in 1989, Karan (now Lord) Bilimoria, from Hyderabad, provided us with the perfect accompaniment to any curry – the Cobra lager.
And if you are wondering if your career in your new country will ever take off, take solace from the story of Michael Marks, an immigrant from Belarus. In 1894, just twelve years after arriving in the UK with little money and poor English, he went from a pedlar to co-founder of Marks & Spencer. Today, Marks & Spencer is recognised as a quintessential British brand.
As a nation, we will remain forever grateful for the selfless dedication and service from thousands of NHS workers – from medical professionals to the essential support services provided by cleaners, porters and caters. According to statistics, there are currently over 170,000 overseas NHS workers from 200 countries in the UK. The NHS has always relied on migrant workers, both skilled and unskilled, to provide the UK’s healthcare services. Over the last eighteen months, we have seen exactly how crucial these workers were in combatting this virus, particularly when statistics show that people from the Black Asian and Minority (BAME) community are more vulnerable to COVID. To quote from the musical, Hamilton, ‘immigrants, we get the job done”.
There are many opportunities for migrants to make a positive impact. It may be a transfer of skills, introducing a different cuisine or developing friendship groups with people from different backgrounds – but you will have a valuable role to play in your new country. Britain’s community of nationals and migrants are working together to support the country’s socio-economic growth and development and expand Britain’s culture, blending new ideas, customs, cuisines, and art to create a more diverse and globally aware society.