Britain would be nowhere without its migrants

Britain would be nowhere without its migrants
Comment: Successive generations of migrants have made invaluable contributions to UK society, and continue to do so today, writes Sadek Hamid.
4 min read
18 Dec, 2018
This week the Home Secretary revealed plans to massively reduce EU immigration [Getty]
This week, NGOs and governments marked International Migrants Day to highlight the human rights of migrants, and celebrate the valuable contributions they make to their adopted countries. 

This message is relevant now more than ever - a time when immigrants, refugees and migrants are never far from the news cycle.

Immigration into Europe continues to occur through both conventional routes, and irregular ones. Some people are fleeing war zones in the Middle East, while others are trying to escape poverty or persecution.  

Reducing net migration has been a highly contentious political issue for successive British governments, and one that is often exploited during elections.

The current Conservative government not too long ago deployed 'go home' vans to drive around areas of high immigration, that implicitly accused new immigrants and asylum seekers of draining the welfare system. And during the toxic "Vote Leave" campaign it alleged that Turkish murderers and terrorists were queuing up to come to the UK.

This week the Home Secretary revealed new plans to reduce immigration from the European Union by up to 80 percent, and end preferential access for EU migrants after December 2020 to cut net immigration from Europe to 10,000 or fewer, each year.

The policy builds upon Theresa May's 2012 intention to create a "hostile environment" for "illegal migration", that she spoke of during her tenure as the Home Secretary. One notable consequence has been the shocking mistreatment of members of the Windrush generation who settled in Britain legally, sometimes without the paperwork, and have since suffered deportation due to bureaucratic incompetence.

Migrants from Eastern Europe pay billions more in taxes to Britain than they take out in public spending

While all countries need to manage their borders and have sustainable levels of migration, the alarmist rhetoric espoused by the right ignores the fact the the UK has always received immigrants. The country is the product of hundreds of years of people settling here to seek a better life.

Those who stayed in the UK have made huge contributions to their host nation not just economically, but also in the transmission of ideas, language, cuisine and popular culture.

British food tastes have been shaped by culinary styles from across the Indian subcontinent during the colonial era up to the modern day. Popular culture is indebted to the contribution of African-Caribbean Britons who have a longstanding presence here, and have been at the forefront of social justice movements, shaped different music genres, dance forms and produced some of the most popular entertainers and successful sports people.

A woman protests against the UK government's
plans for Brexit [Getty]

Migration is a dynamic driver of economic growth, cultural exchange and human resource. Contrary to the myths of immigrants "taking British jobs" and putting a strain on the National Health System (NHS), they have instead created jobs, and their labour is essential to our public services. 

Far from being a strain on schools and hospitals, they subsidise and staff them. European migration has been positive for Britain, it has raised economic performance and improved the public finances according to the Migration Advisory Committee - the most detailed assessment of the impact of immigration on the UK to date.

The report states that Britain is more productive and prosperous as a result. To cite one example, migrants from Eastern Europe pay billions more in taxes to Britain than they take out in public spending.

Despite many British Muslim immigrants coming to this country decades ago as unskilled labourers living in the poorest areas of the UK, there are now more 10,000 Muslim millionaires who are collectively contributing billions of pounds to the economy, and in London alone, around 33 percent of small to medium sized enterprises are Muslim-owned creating more than 70,000 jobs.

The UK has become the leading hub for Islamic finance and in 2014 was the first non-Muslim country to issue a sovereign Islamic bond, known as sukuk, valued at over £200 million.

Much of the argument about the value of immigration is based on economics and flaws in the system, but this often masks deeper concerns about the changing racial and religious diversity in Europe and similar trends taking place in Britain.

These racist fears often focus on security and Muslims, who are framed as the "enemy within" for their supposed inability to fully integrate, or vulnerability to violent radicalisation.

Their anxieties lament the loss of power and Britain's imperial past, which has ironically - in many cases - laid the groundwork for migration to the UK in the first place.

Generations of migrants have positively contributed to the UK by enriching our collective culture, filling labour force shortages, providing highly skilled professionals, creating jobs, and have expanded the parameters of our national identity.

Britain would literally be a poorer country would be without them.

Dr Sadek Hamid is an academic who has written widely about British Muslims. He is the author of 'Sufis, Salafis and Islamists: The Contested Ground of British Islamic Activism' and is co-author of 'British Muslims: New Directions in Islamic Thought, Creativity and Activism'.

Follow him on Twitter: @sadekhamid

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.