Observations of an ex pat: I am an immigrant

I am an immigrant. I emigrated from the United States to the United Kingdom on the 12th December 1971.

I had studied for a year in Britain 18 months before and fell in love with the country and one of its citizens and moved back despite the dreary weather and traffic jams.

I did not flee a Middle Eastern, African, Central Asian or East European War. I did not turf up at Heathrow claiming political persecution or risk crossing the English Channel in an inflatable raft. Neither was I escaping a life of poverty in an African mud hut. In fact, if I had stayed in America I would probably be enjoying a comfortable country club existence.

Nevertheless, I feel an affinity with Africans, Asians, Hispanics, or any person from any race or country who left their homeland to seek a new life. It is not easy to leave the safety net of cultural familiarity, family and friends.

If you are born to a country your acceptance is automatic. As an immigrant you have to constantly prove your worth and justify your decision to uproot your entire life and start afresh.

I feel I have succeeded. I started an international news agency which launched the careers of well over a hundred journalists. My children are all a credit to me as are the 200 boys and girls—many of them now young men and women– who have passed through my scout group over the past 20 years.

I am not boasting. In fact, I don’t regard myself as particularly unusual. Immigrants in every country have outstanding records of contributing to their adopted homelands.

Think about it, by their very nature immigrants have proven through their actions that they are risk takers. They are adventurers. They are focused, determined and prepared to work hard to achieve their aims. Such people are assets to any community lucky enough to have them.

Just ask the American shareholders of Ebay, Tesla, Google, Intel, Yahoo and Sun Microsystems. They are all grateful to the immigrants who started the businesses which keep them in their gated communities and on their expensive golf courses. According to the National Venture Capital Association, immigrants started 25% of America’s businesses financed by venture capital.

Here is another statistic for you, according to the US Small Business Administration, immigrants are 18 percent more likely to start a business than native born Americans. On top of that, those small businesses in 2015 employed 4.7 million Americans.

Republicans in America and Boris Johnson and Priti Patel in Britain claim that immigrants are sucking their countries dry. Their views are echoed by a rapidly growing anti-immigration lobby throughout the Western world. Well, according to a report from University College London—one of the world’s top educational establishments—between 2004 and 2014, immigrants from the European Union put $15 billion more into the British economy than they took out. In fact, the ethnic group which took out more in benefits than it put in was the native-born Brits who—over the same period—cost their country an estimated $700 billion more in welfare, education and health benefits than they paid in taxes.

And what about the millions of aliens that Trump planned to deport and would do so if elected in 2024? Well, according to the US Immigration Policy Centre, Latinos spent $1.5 trillion in 2015 and the Asians $775 billion. Of course, most of these people are legal, but still it is clear that if he has his way Trump will send a lot of money to the other side of his wall.

Opposition to immigration is not just based on cash. There is also a strong argument that they are undermining native cultures. It is true that people bring customs across borders. My family, for instance, make a point of celebrating Thanksgiving. Every year we invite our British friends and thank them for making us welcome. Some have adopted the custom.

Successive waves of immigrants have all been vilified as cultural contaminants. In America, the Irish and Poles were attacked for being Catholics. Italian immigrants were accused of stealing jobs. The Chinese and Japanese faced racial slurs.  But somehow they have all been absorbed into the overarching American culture while at the same time contributing their own customs which help to keep America the vibrant and exciting country that it is.

In Britain in the 17th century, Huguenots increased the population by a staggering ten percent. Their skills are also credited with laying the foundations for the industrial revolution. Irish workers built the railways and canals, and the sons and daughters of Jewish, Afro-Caribbean, South Asian and Asian immigrants now sit in parliament, run major companies and save lives in NHS hospitals.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopedia of the War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain". He has a weekly podcast, Transatlantic Riff.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Well said, Tom. We can’t say often enough that immigrants enrich our country, both economically and culturally.

  • Spot on. We can’t make this point enough times: migrants, even/especially “economic migrants” enrich our society in every sense.

  • Oops, had the same thoughts & words as Mary! Great minds 🙂

  • Brad Barrows 18th Jun '22 - 9:28am

    Interesting article but it is worth pointing out that most people do not believe in open borders that would allow unlimited numbers of people from other countries to move into the country of their choice. This is particularly relevant in the USA where millions of non citizens are living in the USA without a legal right – commonly, though controversially, referred to as ‘illegal immigrants’ – but there are also numbers of non citizens living in the UK without legal right. So, the Liberal Democrats need to make clear whether the Party supports open borders and unrestricted immigration or whether it believes that immigration should be controlled – in which case the Party needs to have an answer to how it would deal with those who choose to ignore those rules and enter the country illegally. Just calling for a ‘fair’ immigration policy is meaningless unless the Party also makes clear what it means by ‘fair’ – ie, does it believe any restrictions on immigration are ‘fair’ and, if so, what kind of restrictions?

  • Anthony Durham 18th Jun '22 - 10:41am

    Xenophobia, like so much of human behaviour, may have deep biological roots. Avoiding disease by shunning foreigners could often be important for human survival in the distant past, and evolution seems to have turned adaptive behaviour into instinct. An alternative viewpoint, that hostility to outsiders is caused by competition for limited resources, serves as a convenient cover story for politicians like Trump or Farage to use when they are really tickling that deeply embedded instinct. To counter them, we must appeal to emotion, more than to economics.

  • Martin Gray 18th Jun '22 - 1:18pm

    The reality is – outside of metropolitan areas most voters are socially conservative . Anyone’s who’s canvassed around those post industrial towns , you will soon get your answer as to where they stand on immigration …
    Those areas, are where the next GE will be fought .

  • nnigel hunter 18th Jun '22 - 5:01pm

    Yes the party needs a sensible immigration policy where a persons skills ,experiences ,past jobs are part of the points system (that does have its advantages).Bringing peoples talents into the mix will help economically.Yes you can tag them whilst their credentials are checked.Then they can be found jobs which can help pay their lodging costs ,be usefull to a/the community.
    Is it possible that social conservatives do not know of the cultural wealth that can be brought into an area to revitalise it? The emotional suspicions ,lack of knowledge of what they can bring to an area,the appreciation that a migrant can show to the area that welcomes them?

  • Keith Creswell 19th Jun '22 - 8:13am

    Having been an immigrant elsewhere and being married to an immigrant back here, I fully agree with Tom’s views. I would also add to his list the gift of perspective.
    The perspective from living with the best and worst of different societies, I am sure, can help your ability to contribute to your local community.

  • >In Britain in the 17th century, Huguenots increased the population by a staggering ten percent.
    And we’ve witnessed a much large population increase – both percentage and raws numbers since 1997.
    Whilst it is useful to look back into history, we do need to remember real numbers. By the end of the 17th century the population of England and Wales is estimated have been 5.5m. We know from subsequent history that the UK was able to sustain a population of circa 30m before food imports became essential to feed the population, today’s population is only sustainable through ‘staggering’ levels of food imports – we import more than 50% of our food.
    So today’s 10+% increase in population comes at a far higher cost than the C17th10% increase and that is before we take into consideration other factors such as climate change, water shortage etc.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Jun '22 - 2:38pm

    A fine article.

    I agree with Tom as ever, who gives us a sensible, as well as moral, basis to his piece.

    As the son of a father who was an imigrant, from Italy, as the husband of a wife of American origin, three cheers.

    As a Brit, the son of an English mother of part Irish extraction, Tom, go easy on the Brits who claim benefits. Ours were once better than the Us, arte no more, and are worse than much of Europe. The reason most figures look good for imigrants compared to Brits, is succesive govts have ensured asylum seeking is harder to happen, here, and new spouses are actually prevented from even being with their partner unless they earn aboeve a threshold some do not.

    We are not as kind a country as some think we are, as I am sure, Tom, you know, from your half entury here!

  • Peter John Hirst 3rd Jul '22 - 4:52pm

    It is not possible to predict who will make a good immigrant or asylum seeker. Most will build our country either economically or by contributing to our diversity and culture. There is a limit but we are nowhere near to that, perhaps half of the population of our country could be from other cultures.

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