British Elections and New Approaches to Immigration

Immigration continues to be one of the central issues in the British election campaign as May 6 approaches.  As BBC‘s Mark Eason reports, “Immigration into the UK has been at historically high levels for more than a decade, and in the past five years has been consistently above half a million a year. Unlike previous elections, when accusations of “playing the race card” made immigration a difficult area for political debate, this time we are promised the candidates will readily engage on the issue.”

BBC Caribbean asks, “What should the UK’s approach to immigration be?” Some believe that it boosts the economy and has made UK into a truly multicultural country. But others say that the arrival of large numbers in recent years has put a strain on hospitals, schools and transport in some places and created a fragmented society. Increased immigration has led to tensions—fears that foreigners are putting pressure on these services and that their arrival threatens British jobs and British identity.

However, there are also concerns that Britain will need more young people to service an ageing population. The changing ratio of working and retired populations has led to warnings that taxes might have to rise significantly to pay for the increasing demands from the growing number of elderly people. Many worry that strict controls and limiting immigration to only highly skilled workers will increase the cost of lower-skilled care staff. It is estimated that one in every seven care workers is from overseas. In London, it is closer to one in two, many of these from the Caribbean.

Since the 1950s there has been a mass exodus of Caribbean-trained nurses to the United Kingdom (and more recently to Canada and the United States) [also see previous post The Caribbean’s nursing drain]. As stated in “How migrants helped make the NHS” (The Guardian, 18 June 2008), “the Caribbean was a primary source of nurses. As early as 1949, the health and labour ministries launched recruitment campaigns that resulted in thousands of nurses arriving in Britain and being dispersed to hospitals all over the UK.” Although former Antigua High Commissioner to London Sir Ron Sanders says the immigration policy being debated by the three main parties does not have a direct bearing on the region “as most Caribbean nationals require a visa to enter the UK” and that on matters of foreign relations and trade, the Caribbean’s focus has shifted away from Britain to the United States, one must not forget that traditional patterns of migration have far-reaching roots of interdependence that are not easily erased.

For full report and interviews regarding the Caribbean vote and lobbying, see

For photo and article “How migrants helped make the NHS” by Patrick Butler, see

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