Observations of an expat: I am an immigrant

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I am an immigrant. I emigrated from the United States to the United Kingdom on the 12th of 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 War. I did not turf up at Heathrow claiming political persecution. 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 African, Asian, Hispanic, 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 – many of them now young me – 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, 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.

Donald Trump in America and the Brexiteers in Britain, Viktor Orban in Hngary, Matteo Salvini in Italy, Marine le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands… they all 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 plans to deport? 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 the traditional American holiday of 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 villified as cultural contaminants. In the US, the Irish and Poles were attacked as heathen Catholics. Italian immigrants were accused of stealing jobs. The Chinese and Japanese were lumped together as “The Yellow Peril.” In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries French Huguenots swelled the population of Britain by a staggering ten percent. But their craft skills are credited with laying the foundations of Britain’s industrial revolution.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War” and “America Made in Britain". To subscribe to his email alerts on world affairs click here.

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  • John Marriott 14th Aug '20 - 1:47pm

    I WAS an immigrant, and so was my wife back in 1970. Actually, as we left the U.K. to work in Canada, I suppose that I was technically an emigrant. Although I didn’t know it at the time, 101 years earlier, following her husband’s death, my great great grandmother and three of her daughters together with two granddaughters had left Mansfield, Notts for a new life in the New World, leaving behind my great grandfather and his elder brother and sister. Financial reasons probably played an important rôle in their decision to brave the three week journey across the Atlantic. In my case it was a youthful desire to see a bit more of the world, via a DC10 – and to double my salary in the process!

    However, in my case, as what they used to call ‘the main breadwinner’, I would never have considered emigration, which required a thorough medical examination for my wife and me amongst other investigations, without a job to go to.

    I can understand the term ‘refugee’ or ‘asylum seeker‘. I do, however, have a problem with the term ‘economic migrant’, because, although that’s what I might have been called some fifty years ago, many of these modern ‘economic migrants’ do not seem prepared to go through the kind of accepted legal channels that were required back in 1970 and are still available today. If someone could prove to me that every person arriving here today by plane, train, car, lorry or inflatable was seeking asylum or fleeing from oppression and was not just trying to earn a bit more and bypass the system I would be much happier.

  • Fish and chips came from Jewish migrants well over a century ago. Patels parents fled Africa and became successful in the UK. Her parents were MIGRANTS. She should be aware of the fact that THEY gave her opportunities. Montague Burton founder of Burton.s tailorswho grew and gave many jobs to people..You can add others to a listof MIGRANTS that have benefited the country.

  • Peter Martin 14th Aug '20 - 2:20pm

    I’m sure we can all provide examples of migrants who have been either a credit or liability to their adopted society. It’s really quite irrelevant for either side to do this.

    From next year we’ll have to decide what our immigration policy should be. We’ll not get anyway if we have, on the one side, Person X invented “fish and chips”, or became a Tory cabinet minister, but, on the other, Person Y planted a bomb at the Manchester Arena.

    Questions I would like to see asked: Should a person’s wealth to be an important factor? Are exiled Russian Oligarchs who managed to stuff their pockets as the USSR collapsed a real asset to our country?

  • David Evershed 14th Aug '20 - 2:45pm

    The issue is not immigrants.

    The issue is uncontrolled immigration with unlimited numbers of immigrants.

  • In 1962, the Commonwealth Immigrants Act ended the automatic right of people of the British Commonwealth and Colonies to settle in the United Kingdom.

  • “The issue is uncontrolled immigration with unlimited numbers of immigrants”

    This is fair, we should have a cap of the number of non-refugee immigrants. My suggestion is 10% of the UK population annually.

    Since the actual numbers are nowhere near that suggested cap, it’s a lot easier to just not bother having a rule.

    Refugees are entitled to apply for asylum in any country they choose, they are not restricted to the first safe country. Personally, I think that anyone who is no longer safe in their home country should be assessed by the UNHCR and, if granted refugee status, given a passport with absolute right of abode in every member of the UN. If they aren’t safe in their home country, then the entire rest of the world should take on the responsibility jointly.

  • Richard
    Do you how long refugees in Thailand have to wait for UNHCR interview?

  • Antony Watts 15th Aug '20 - 11:13am

    Welcome to the ex-pat club. Move anywhere out of your “home” you will know it and have to adjust. I have done so in Milan, Singapore, Japan and France.

    It can take a while, and may involve a new language, but societies are very similar,

  • I may well be an expatriate in its true sense but I am not an immigrant. I went overseas to work and stayed, now like many other retirees I feel I should have British state pension upgrades.

    I am glad to read about the UK commemorations of VJ Day.

  • Paul
    Like most foreigners in Thailand I am here on a temporary basis. Very few people have an immigrant visa (those with family here) The authorities issue non-immigrant visas.
    Legally I am an alien.

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