If you’re an immigrant like I am, you probably get vexed whenever you see any immigrant-bashing politicians and interest groups in the popular press. It might even make you feel unwanted in the country you have chosen to live. I commiserate with you because this is exactly how I used to feel but I have taken on a fresh perspective this week: I had the pleasure of attending a ceremony where immigrants take an oath to become British.
As I sat around waiting for things to kick off I looked around the room and thought a bit about some of the characters there: most people took the occasion very seriously and were well-dressed, over-dressed even; some wore their pride in becoming British very clearly in their expression; there was one guy who spoke so little English (if any) that he couldn’t confirm what his name was when asked; there were a couple of families there with one English speaking family member present, typically the father, with the rest still unable to communicate and comprehend instructions; in one case, the English speaking father had a pregnant wife and two kids under three in tow.
This got me thinking, what sort of people does any country want to attract? The answer is simple: positive contributors; people that will add more to the local economy than they will take out of it. Such contributors need also to show a willingness to assimilate and integrate into the economy by, at a minimum, learning the language and the culture. To live somewhere for five years and still be unable to speak the language reflects a serious lack of interest in the culture.
The English test required to become British is so easy it’s impossible to fail. This was quite evident from the struggles some displayed in following rather basic instructions. Still, this is only one side of the argument.
It’s all well and good for me to say contribute to society, learn the language, learn the culture, however, is it that straightforward?
Let’s enter the life of a young girl of 16 or 17 who’s been married off straight out of Asia and brought to England. Her new husband owns a store, for instance, what control does she have over her life? She likely has extremely limited education and even less freedom. If her husband works in the shop all day and she lives in the flat above, her actions will be under constant surveillance. Even if she wants to learn English, she might be afraid to ask her husband?
“What do you want to learn English for?” he may well ask. He may be unwilling to relinquish the supremacy he enjoys over her being. Educating his wife in anyway would empower her and perhaps, by his own thinking, reduce his ability to ‘keep her in check’.
Indeed, it is highly possible that although the mother may fail to integrate into the community, she may raise her children to be well contributing citizens that any country would be proud to have.
A possible step forward could be the implementation of a compulsory and rigorous integration course, say taken by those that would not qualify under a reasonable scoring system similar to that used for a highly skilled migrant visa.
It’s a tough issue, made more complicated by those that hate immigrants for the sake of it and immigrants that purely want to take advantage of a generous benefit system. Nonetheless, I empathize both with the powerless immigrant and those citizens that genuinely just want a responsible immigration system.
By Heather Katsonga-Woodward
I'm always thinking, debating, considering and revising my views - some of those deliberations will be shared right here.