With the Conservatives intent on marching ever further to the right on the issue of immigration, could their proposals spell disaster for the UK?
I am now an immigrant. I am not sure when the reality first struck me, probably during one of my numerous bouts with German bureaucracy, but here I am, struggling to get to grips with a new language, find a low-paid job, maintain my relationship amidst the attendant sea of stresses bundled along with life in a foreign land and, dare I say it, failing miserably to integrate.
Except integration only really seems to become an issue if you are non-white. Unlike the immigrants that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary are so keen to vilify, I have several advantages: I’m European and so, unlike an Egyptian acquaintance who was racially abused on a bus recently, unless I open my mouth, my origins aren’t immediately apparent. Teutonic culture is also not so far removed from what I am accustomed to. We’re all European, after all. Language, something that David Cameron insists is a benchmark of successful integration, is irrelevant here. English, being the global lingua franca that it is, can always be relied upon.
Am I integrated? Undoubtedly not. I speak passable German but have few actual native friends, I am not down the beer halls every night in search of ‘Deutsche Kulture’ to assimilate myself seamlessly into, and the sum total of my knowledge of the country in which I currently elect to reside could be scrawled on the brain cell of the average UKIPer.
Not that any of that matters. My skin colour and nationality insulate me from such concerns. It is simply a non-issue.
For those without that luxury, integration is a vague term. One often thrown around without any real idea as to what it means. How we gauge it seems less important than what it represents: a word to divide communities, to punish people not for failing to adapt to Western values or adopt British culture as much as for being simply ‘other’ or ‘foreign.’
Cameron talks of isolated Muslim women but I remember growing up with people whose parents often struggled with English. The tremendous effort it must take, on top of raising children and working every hour possible, to study a foreign tongue is something I never fully appreciated until recently. Despite the undeniable handicap of not speaking the ‘Queen’s own’ and all the prejudice that comes with it, these mums and dads of yesterday are now the proud parents of second and third generation doctors, lawyers, engineers and teachers.
Perhaps the idea that Muslims are discriminated against in Britain seems far fetched, but initiatives like the government’s Prevent scheme lay the blame of terrorism squarely at the Muslim community’s door. Muslims are expected to denounce the Paris attacks, as if they personally played a part. If that strikes you as reasonable, then please, the next time you meet a Catholic, ask them to personally distance themselves from the Vatican’s on-going decades of child abuse scandals – there is even a ready-made hashtag they can use ‘#notinmyname,’ created for just such ludicrous displays of public culpability.
Even the Prime Minister himself doesn’t know where he stands on the issue, earlier telling a group of Muslim women that he was not suggesting a causal connection between “not speaking English and becoming an extremist.” Before continuing in the same breath to suggest a causal connection between not speaking English and becoming an extremist: “if you are not able to speak English, not able to integrate, you may…have challenges understanding what your identity is and…you could be more susceptible to the extremist message.” Dave is clearly confused and judging by the Conservatives’ policies, already in the unmistakable grip of extremism.
And it’s not just Muslims who are under threat. Britain once offered people from across the globe the chance of a better life. The idea they could make a home for themselves and raise a family might have attracted them, but through their hard work they contributed infinitely more to the UK than what they asked of it.
Thanks to lack of proportional representation UKIP may have managed to secure just one seat at the general election, but their poisonous anti-immigrant rhetoric has far reaching consequences. With the Conservatives (and even a pre-Corbyn Labour – lest we forget Ed’s lovely mug) scrambling to the right to secure the anti-immigration vote, Theresa May’s long-mooted immigration shake up is just the latest alarming manifestation of the UKIP-effect.
The Home Secretary’s proposed scheme would see immigrants facing deportation if they failed to earn over £35k within two years (to put that into perspective: nurses only earn on average around £22k). Predictably, the drastically unpopular plan faced a backlash today on social media, including an online petition seeking to get the discriminatory legislation overturned, which has already clocked up over 60k signatures.
That May sets the bar at a staggering £10k over the national average yearly salary not only discriminates against those grafting in low-paid jobs, the same people who are the parents of the subsequent generations’ high earners, but it would turn the UK into a revolving door of temporary migration. Those who are deemed economically ineligible after two years would be unable to put down roots and instead face being kicked out of the country.
The government seems intent on remodelling the social fabric of the UK in the UKIP mould, reshaping the boundaries and excluding people based on short-term socio-economic circumstances, rather that their potentially inestimable long-term contributions.
This idea that there is a problem with integration, that people should feel obligated to integrate and that integration can be measured on an economic or linguistic scale is ridiculous. Integration is a generational process. Those who come here and work their fingers to the bone, often holding down two or three jobs, generate not only an enormous amount for the economy, but they produces the next generation of Brits.
If the UK chooses to forget that, it will be to the detriment of us all.