I am a migrant. What image do you have of me?

I wrote a blog post for qustn.com about employing migrants. It’s a topic that is close to me as I have seen first-hand the discrimination migrants can be faced with but have also been floored by the stories of friends and colleagues who have overcome more than my brain is able to comprehend.

The main problem with any discussion about migrant workers is the word “migrant”. A migrant is someone who have moved from one area to settle in another.

That’s it. That’s the definition.

I have migrated to other cities, and to other countries. I’ve travelled by car and by plane. I’ve migrated with a shipping container of possessions following me and I’ve migrated with just a suitcase and a sports bag. But I am lucky. I was born a citizen of the country I wanted to move to and was a native speaker of the language. It sucks that not everyone is that lucky. It sucks that luck as anything to do with it at all.

Tolerance.org and BritishExpats.com are both fascinating reading. I’m quite sure that every country in the world has a group within it who don’t want immigrants, and each of those groups have a certain nationality in mind. Again, I had luck on my side in that I wasn’t from a nationality that my new neighbours traditionally objected to. And again, that luck was part of it sucks.

But I’m going to look instead at this list of reasons why people don’t like immigration, from UKIP via Huffington Post, and I’ll list how I fit in and exactly why I think it sucks.

  1. Immigrants are increasing NHS waiting times. “Britain is full”.

Read the article if you want the full stats about the inaccuracy of the NHS statement. The purpose statement of the NHS does not use the word citizen or resident. So let’s just accept that everyone can use it.

The system exists so that people can use it – when they need it. The NHS is understaffed, overworked and overused for non-emergencies. Let’s think about this. If our public health system is strained, perhaps it’s because the public aren’t healthy?

The NHS has listed 6 reasons why they are strained – and the public as a whole can fix half of them and it sucks that we forget that and throw blame around instead. We may not be responsible for rising costs, longevity and the inefficient structure of NHS services, but we can address the issues of our unhealthy lifestyles, our expectations and our attitude towards A&E. If you’re that concerns about the NHS, then be as healthy as you can and educate yourself and your community about what services you genuinely need and the best way to access them. As for supporting the aging population and rising costs, you can either support a tax increase, have children that will one day pay tax when you’re old, or you can increase the tax-paying population with immigrants.

I believe I have done my duty here. In the time I have been here I have paid tax and improved my health (only slightly, but I’m working on it). Also, I never been to A&E. When I sliced my finger open with a tree (that’s another story!), I treated myself using my first aid training, then went to the local pharmacy to obtain the most appropriate longer term treatment and learn how to dress the wound correctly.

In my original country, I was a more frequent client of the public health system and I would sit in A&E for hours with what I suspected was, and was indeed, a minor injury. The reasons why I sat there were sometimes due to lack of education about self-treatment and sometimes due to societal issues or employment requirements. The point is, if there are heaps of people sitting in A&E who aren’t suffering from an “A” or an “E”, there is another issue going on.

  1. Immigrants are to blame for undercutting British workers

If immigrants are taking your job because they are willing to work for minimum wage, then they must be desperate for the work and we should be angry with the employers who are illegally manipulating us all for money.

The first job interview I had in the UK was for a filing clerk position. I had a great CV, 5 years’ experience in administration and was interviewed for 20 minutes. At the end of the interview I was told that I wasn’t suitable because I didn’t have “local experience”. They knew that when they read my CV and called me for interview. Perhaps they decided against me because I asked for the standard hourly rate (I had done my research). Perhaps they decided against me for another reason. But I can imagine being desperate for work and willingly negotiating that point until they agreed to take me.

When it comes to local workers not getting work, I don’t blame immigrants. I blame employers for using illegal practices. I blame recruitment agencies for being too focused on sales targets instead of people. I also blame the rigidity of the employment processes that the standard for employing someone is to look over their CV and make them perform at a job interview. I happen to rock interviews and can style a winning CV, but I know many talented people who are brilliant at what they do, but can’t sell themselves on paper or can’t charm at interview. 

It takes hard work and vigilance to maintain a meritocracy. If it’s not working, blame the decision makers, not the chance takers.

  1. The entire population of Romania and Bulgaria could be heading to the UK

So much negativity towards migrants would dissolve if people who had these thoughts actually asked migrants why they moved here. There is a big difference between people who want to emigrate because they want to live in a certain country and those who don’t like where they are. I want to be clear that I don’t think reasons for emigrating a binary. It’s a scale and there are more than two extremes and zillions of points in between.

For me, I get the opportunity to share my reason for emigrating all the time because, again, I’m lucky and, again, that sucks. I relocated from somewhere traditionally seen as a destination. “Why are you here, I’d rather be there!”. Well, maybe you would and there are many good reasons (and some questionable ones) for that.

My reply is always the same: “Here feels like home”. We all want to be comfortable. We want food, shelter and a reason to get out of bed. I love my country of origin. I love the food, I love the flora and fauna, I love the relaxed atmosphere… but only in small doses. I was not a cultural fit in my own country. I am in this one.

This response gets mixed reactions. Locals either think it’s very sweet, or they think I’m crazy. Other migrants totally understand. They love to travel home, eat traditional food, sing the songs of their homeland popstars. But they don’t want to live there because they have more purpose living here.

This is very different to someone who wants to emigrate because they can’t live where they come from. If I was happy in my country and it ran out of food and we couldn’t import any, but I could move my family to a country that did have food, I’d move them.

If my country was taken over by a government or militant organisation that said that I couldn’t live the life I had been living (or restricted my provisions to do so), I would protest. If protesters, or anyone remotely supporting them were then being tortured or killed, I’d want my family and I out of there pretty damn fast. At that point, I would just pick a destination and go for it and that decision would be based on safety. Once my own country was safe again, would I return? Of course. If I had happiness and security before, I would want it again. If the country that took me in was giving me an even better life that what I had to start with, I’d embrace that country and its lifestyle instead.

I’d be a migrant, but I’d also be a refugee and I think we should all take a doctor’s approach to refugees: First, do no harm. Help people stay alive first, then work out the rest.

  1. Britain loses money wasting benefits on scroungers cheating the system

This idea brings me a wry smile every time. As the article states,

“Of course, if it weren’t for free movement within the EU, Britain would see a sharp increase in the amount of people living on unemployment benefit. There are currently more unemployed UK citizens in Spain, than all the EU immigrants claiming benefits in the UK combined.”

Unless you’re a refugee (and remember, nobody wants to be a refugee), it’s not that easy to just rock up and get benefits. I couldn’t do it as a citizen migrating here and even when I went to university, as a citizen, I had to pay international fees. If you have ever tried to claim anything through the government, be it welfare, housing, an NHS number, it’s never instantaneous.

If there are scroungers of any nationality able to cheat the system, then the system needs fixing and cheaters need to be dealt with. This issue has nothing to do with immigration at all.

  1. EU membership is a burden on the UK.

Once again, the article addresses this with the statistics and it’s all good. You want to know what a “burden” is? Having to spend £40 and a day of your vacation leave standing in a queue to get a visa, just so you can to take a flight to get to be on a “proper” beach. JK 😉

Ideas about migration are often discussed in terms of “rights”. Everybody has a right to live, and when you spend too much time thinking about what you don’t have, you don’t realise how privileged you are. Before judging people based on what they want out of life and what they will do to get it, measure it against what you already have.

Then, if you want to really know what good fortune and less fortune looks like, watch this video.

Cover Image by AJ Jain used under CC-BY-SA 2.0

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