Published on 25 Apr 2013 Sections

Immigrant experiences in David Cameron’s Britain

Two years after Prime Minister David Cameron first set out his position on immigration, Channel 4 News asks four newcomers to Britain how life has changed for them.

Two years after Prime Minister David Cameron first set out his position on immigration, Channel 4 News asks four newcomers to Britain how life has changed for them.

Two years ago David Cameron delivered a hard-headed speech criticising new migrants who were unwilling to integrate, writes Kunal Dutta. These groups, he said, had created “disjointedness” in communities that had fuelled local resentment and galvanised support for Ukip and the BNP.

Coming hard on the heels of an election pledge to reduce net migration from “hundreds of thousands” to “tens of thousands” by the end of 2015, it fired the starting gun on immigration reform.

And new figures suggest the target could be met. Net migration fell from 255,000 in the year to 2010 to 163,000 in July 2012.

That has been accompanied by an immigration crackdown, including proposals banning new migrants from social housing waiting lists for at least five years, and restricting access to benefits and the NHS.

Social consequences

Now critics fear there are deeper social consequences that are yet to be understood. In a paper to be published today, Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, warns that the drop only tells one side of the story.

Spokesman Scott Blinder says: “For many people, the impact of migration on the ‘feel’ of the community or country they live in may be more important than traditional measures of economic or social impact.”

All of this has caught Labour off guard. Earlier this year Ed Miliband admitted that his party had failed to heed voters’ concerns and said its entire approach required rethinking. In January next year Britain will lift EU working restrictions for Bulgaria and Romania, creating new challenges.

But what is the human effect? As both parties prepare to trade blows on immigration ahead of the 2015 election, how are newcomers to Britain feeling?

Tell us your experiences: #immigrationnation

Shahid Aly

42, a taxi driver from Newport, Wales. Originally from Pakistan (pictured second left)

“Things have got a lot harder since 2011. First of all, the recession has created greater strain. I now work around 15 hours a day because far fewer people are taking cabs than before.

“But the recession has other effects. Newport is changing. There are more eastern Europeans settling here than any time I remember. Many of the new migrants are from Bulgaria and Romania and choosing Newport because it’s cheaper to live here than many other UK cities.

Many of the new migrants are from Bulgaria and Romania, choosing Newport because it’s cheaper than many other cities.

“It has a dual effect. On one hand, Newport has become far more multicultural, and people have more exposure to other cultures then before. But on the other hand, you see more hostility and racism when it comes to the few that are not working, claiming benefits or abusing the system.

“That makes me resentful. I see people claiming benefits and it makes me angry. I’m working around 15 hours a day now to support my family, and I know people who are living off housing benefits. That’s not fair. I’m a great believer that if you don’t put anything into the kitty, you don’t deserve to take anything either.”

Aggie Rodz

31, a hotel manager in Birmingham. Arrived from Poland in 2006 (pictured second right)

“Two major things have occurred in the last two years. So many of my friends have left the UK and returned to Poland, where they are earning more money and see better prospects. But at the same time, Britain has accepted the Poles – and I really do feel like I’m part of Britain.

“The cost of living has increased exponentially, and I now feel lucky to be in the job I’m in rather than continuously setting my sights on other things. When I first came to this country it was paradise – I could afford a nice house, car and a good standard of living. Now I have to be very careful about what I spend.

English people are warm and very open. I feel I’m getting a deeper understanding of English culture.

“Much is made about the Bulgarian labour restrictions threatening Polish business when they lift at the end of this year. But I’m not worried. We’ve been here several years and cultivated close links with the community.

“Most of all, Britain has let Poland into its heart. When I first arrived here there was racism and discrimination. Nowadays you don’t see that at all. English people are warm and very open. I feel like I’m getting a deeper understanding of English culture than ever before. I hope to live and start a family here.”

Tomas Jurjonas

26, sales executive from Worthing. Arrived from Lithuania eight years ago (pictured above left)

“Many people complain about the lack of work, but I disagree. Britain is full of jobs. The problem is that no-one wants to do them.

“In my last two years I have switched career from being a head chef, to working in the sales and marketing team of one of the largest food suppliers in the area. During my weekends I’m continuously asked to help in restaurant kitchens and even do the odd bit of DIY or redecorating for friends.

Britain is full of jobs. The problem is that no-one wants them.

“If anything, there’s a fear that the EU labour controls for Bulgaria and Romania will lead to our prices being undercut. All the job wages are likely to come down and I think that’s going to affect us deeply.

“But generally life is good and Britain has been very kind. In the last two years I have changed career, got engaged and am now planning to start a family with my fiancé. If you work hard, this country will reward you.”

Jalf Ali

38, businessman from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. Originally from Bangladesh (pictured above right)

“The recession is a brilliant time for business opportunism but much of it is being squandered by the clampdown on work permits. We own numerous restaurants which aim to bring authentic Indian cooking to the people of northern England.

“There’s huge demand, but bringing international chefs into the country from India has become more of a headache than ever before. Getting work permits takes months.

The recession is a brilliant time for business opportunism, but much of it is being squandered by the clampdown on work permits.

“I’m in total agreement of restricting immigration, but at the same time there is a genuine need to bring in skilled chefs that can’t just be plucked from inside the EU.

“People are generally more tolerant though. The new generation are far more exposed to different cultures than we or my parents were.

“I think David Cameron has it wrong about the necessity of speaking English. If you’re courteous and willing to communicate, it shouldn’t matter how great your command of the English language or its history is.”