Just over ten years ago UK Home Secretary David Blunkett urged immigrants to adopt “British norms of acceptability” and develop a greater sense of belonging in the UK. But should they be expected to do so in a country, and a world, that prides itself on being multicultural?
In the wake of a multicultural society, one in which all three of the Olympic gold medals won by Team Great Britain were won by those perhaps not typically of ‘Great British’ descent, what does this mean for the abundance of immigrants that make and have made their homes on UK land?
The difficulty in ascertaining what exactly a British identity is, is in itself an important question. Is there even a defined British identity to which immigrants must assimilate? Aside from the fact that we are reportedly six times more likely to be of mixed heritage than our parents are, the fact that Britain was for so long a colonialist country arguably in itself muddies the British identity as it is, in itself, one that has become more and more mixed.
This is aside from the fact that in a world where transportation links have become increasingly more accessible and travel has become commonplace, what is stopping people going out in search of a better life for themselves and their families? Whereas in the past people would travel from the countryside to the city in search of better work and better opportunities for their families, todays equivalent of country dwellers can hop on a train, or a boat, or a plane, to take them to wherever they perceive there to be better opportunities for themselves. Should this move mean they have to adapt to the norms of their new surroundings?
This is particularly poignant in that these additions to the country bring with them their experiences, their skills and their views on life, which, if incorporated could arguably prove beneficial to the host countries. The UK would arguably not be the county it is without the mass contributions of its immigrant populations.
In addition to the fact that an increased amount of immigrants results in an increased work force for the country, it has been proven that immigrants are more willing to do low paid jobs or ones that people in the host country cannot do. To this end they have been found to frequently meet skill shortages in areas such as the health sector, where over 30% of doctors and well over 10% of nurses are non-UK born. In education, overseas teachers play a large role in staffing schools, with an increasing number of London education authorities directly recruiting staff from overseas.
Immigrants have also been found to work for longer hours and for lower salaries – factors which, although controversial and at times lead to exploitation – are arguably benefits for the host country. Those that move to the UK to employment are paying taxes that go to the British people – taxes that stay behind whether or not the immigrant themselves do.
This is made all the poignant by the fact that economic migrants are “self-selecting,” meaning that they made a conscious choice to migrate in order to find work. In a UK Government Home Office study Glover suggested that this would mean they are more likely to be more resourceful, entrepreneurial and ambitious than the average person.
Of course, this is not always the case. Arguably some immigrants either come from cultures that are worlds away from the British way of life, or are wholly unwilling or unable to partake in the host country.
To this end, it could be argued that the immigrants should at least try as, as one person put it “I say any country you think is worth entering a boat in the middle of the night for, swimming across the Atlantic and selling all you have to move to, any country that you decide is worth settling in to better yourself…the least you can do for that country is be decent and adapt to its norms and obey its laws.”
This applies almost directly to those who, in moving to another country refuse to adapt in any way. Arguably the most basic and fundamental aspect of adapting to a culture is learning the language, but recent research suggests that even many second or third generation immigrants speak or understand hardly any English.
Perhaps it is unfair to assume that everyone should speak English, but to move to a country where that is the predominant language and not at least attempt to make the words familiar to your ears or your tongue could be supremacist in itself. As above, why bother moving to a country if you are unwilling to play any part in its progression, or your own?
The importance in at least attempting to adapt is evident in much of France’s societal problems, which can, at least in part be attributed to the fact that their immigrants are so wholly unassimilated into the society and live in ‘banlieues’ at the edge of the city.
The banlieues in Paris house hundreds of thousands of French citizens who originate mostly from North African descent – ones who partially due to feeling completely uninvolved from the society they live in have contributed to mass civil unrest, most notably that of Autumn 2005 where much of the banlieues youth took part in a series of riots.
Therefore assuming that feeling like part of the society is important both for the countries and the immigrant’s well being, the question remains, whose responsibility is it to ensure that this is the case?
The immigrants. Just as you wouldn’t go into someone else’s house and expect to abide by your own rules, arguably you shouldn’t expect to go into another country and bring all your baggage with you. Especially as in as much as the UK is a free country, the demands it makes on its citizens are not really too hard to abide by. France and its ban of the veil, for example, is arguably much more forceful in its need for its immigrants to adapt to the status quo of the country.
Countries such as Saudi Arabia can also be said to impose their views on the expats and the visitors that frequent their countries, raising the question of why should the UK with its arguably much more lax requirements be expected to adapt to the culture of each and every resident that finds sanctuary on its land? Would it not be easier if those who have made the decision to seek it there, trim their edges in order to live a more harmonious life?
In saying that, at the end of the day we are all human beings and the differences between us, despite coming from different cultures or different religions are not entirely and wholly that different. Arguably it is possible to adapt without being a hypocrite to your beliefs and without having to wholly give them up.
As one UK resident of Pakistani descent said: “The idea is integration. Not wholly giving up one thing for another but rather remembering who you are and where you come from and where you currently live and finding a balance between all three.”
For as much as the argument of a free speech and a free country remains, and aside from the fact that some immigrants are uprooted due to factors out of their control, why move to another country if you are unwilling to give or take, anything? Just as love and growth and any relationship requires compromise, so does a life outside our own minds.