Immigration and Malayalees

Those who have followed my blog and writings will know that immigration is a subject that interests me, and where I have some involvement, especially the plight of a quarter of a million destitute asylum seekers caught up in the system. There are of course other categories of immigrants, more significant in terms of numbers.

Most will agree, for example, that genuine students from overseas coming to this country in order to study are a good thing and most who give the subject much thought are happy with the idea of professionals coming in to fill vacancies. Most of these might be classed as economic migrants. While the subject of Europe is an emotive and complex one, which will have to wait for another post, but many will recognize that part of the “deal” of being part of the EU is to allow free movement of people. Many feel though we have got a raw deal, particularly since opening membership to former Communist countries. The fierce debate on the subject will continue.

Sadly, the debate continues to be shrouded in misinformation and sound bites, with none of the political parties coming out with particular credit when it comes to a clear and balanced presentation of facts and policies as to what needs to happen. Some of my friends have pointed me to studies to show that the net effect of immigration has been positive. My mind then went back to a phrase I first come across in my student days: “there are lies, damned lies and statistics”. My current thinking is that in some cases immigration is positive and in some cases it isn’t, and in terms of handling new immigrants and the way immigration is controlled we are far from getting it right. While I suspect the recent surge in support for UKIP may have been for the wrong reasons, and it may have been as a result of feeding on peoples’ prejudices, we should credit the electorate with some intelligence for discerning that something isn’t quite right and who are right to expect that those who are vying for political office to be beholden to address those concerns rather than dismiss them as an aberration.

The reality is that most people living in Britain today are immigrants although there has been a big rise in immigration in more recent years, which have undoubtedly contributed to strains on services and tensions in society. For the sake of this posting, I will focus on recent immigrants, and specifically concerning the Malayalees, one of the new immigrant groups that have appeared in this country over the past fifteen years, although prior to that there have been a smattering of such folk, typically working as doctors. Malayalam is the language spoken by those who live in Kerala, a state in India. Those who live in Kerala are often referred to as Malayalees. It is by far the most literate state of India but also one that is economically under-developed compared to other parts. As a result, well qualified professionals often seek work outside Kerala, typically in Gulf countries and more recently in the USA and the UK.

The reason why we have seen the Malayalee population of Southend grow from almost nothing to a few hundred in such a short time is simple. Southend and Basildon hospitals, as well as some of the nursing homes, had (and still has) a shortage of qualified nurses. (It begs the question: how come given we have so many people who are unemployed?) When hospitals started looking further afield to recruit nurses, starting with the Philippines, another immigrant group that has grown rapidly in recent years, it realized there were suitable folk from India that could fill these roles. Typically, the wife with the nursing qualification came over first to take up a nursing post, followed later by the husband and children. Most have settled.

I have a particular interest. My wife is Malayalee and she is a nurse. She came to the UK before it started recruiting Indian nurses, and this was for our marriage, and there she settled. I have also visited Kerala many times and have many friends among the Malayalees and believe I understand many of their concerns and attitudes. But it was a recent chance conversation with one Malayalee friend on some of the issues I am about to raise that has prompted this post. While I realize the importance of not generalizing, I believe that my friend’s situation is typical of many Malayalees living in Southend.

Like many, his wife came to the UK first to work as a nurse and he followed soon after, and they had three children. He is as well qualified as his wife, maybe more so (he holds two degrees), but not in an area where there are job shortages. He took the view that he would take whatever work was available to supplement the family income, including doing some of the more menial jobs that some established Britons would turn down. He emphasized that he has received little by way of benefits other than NHS services and free schooling. He has tried to be a good citizen, respecting the laws and customs of the country. He shared concerns over some lawless elements and, while not overt, he felt there was a degree of racism. Like many, he has brought a house and is bemused over UK house price inflation. He is passionate about his children’s education including extra tuition. Besides being a good citizen, his family has given much by way of taxes and contributing to national life.

I would say that on balance he has given more to the country than he has taken from it, and that is typical of most Southend Malayalees.