The End of Multiculturalism? Immigration and Integration in Germany and the United Kingdom

By Laura Muchowiecka
2013, Vol. 5 No. 06 | pg. 8/12 |

Policy after 1962: The conservative era

As a consequence of growing anxiety and anti-immigration sentiments, the Conservative Government rapidly introduced The Commonwealth Immigrants Act in 1962 making citizens of Great Britain whose passports were not issued by the UK Government subject to immigration control. This put an end to the previous legislation. The act required migrants to possess desired professional skills and have a job position before their arrival. The new restriction was justified with three arguments. The “coloured” immigration could cause: firstly, overpopulation, secondly, escalation of unemployment and thirdly, problems of “race relations.”86Indeed, this was a matter of fact that a vast majority of non-white population, typically to minorities from developing countries, was agglomerated in some urban districts with higher unemployment and crime rates.

Britain realized a bit too late that the influx had already changed the population’s proportion – this 14-year long post-war period was enough to ensure British multiculturalism. Rumours of restricting the policy resulted in a double influx in 1961 and 1962. Moreover, the next wave was unavoidable despite the restrictive legislation – family reunifications guaranteed that migration would continue throughout the following decade. Families’ members did not lose their right to enter the country.87 The influx of colonial citizens was more regulated by the state which linked it to demand on the British labour market and its changing political ideology.

In the following years the UK gradually tightened controls on post-colonial immigration. Although the net migration did not decrease due to the above-mentioned law regulating the family reunion, the legislation was increasingly stricter. In 1968 the social anti-migration moods were fuelled by a widely debated speech held by Conservative MP Enoch Powell. The speech, which went down to history as “Rivers of Blood speech,” attacked the Commonwealth immigration. Powell stated that they need to be mad as a nation to be permitting annual inflow of 50 000 dependants. He compared it to watching a nation engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre.88His main argument against multi-racial society was based on the supposed English cultural unity and balanced British way of life that could be destroyed by the invading hordes of immigrants who, with their different practices and “tendency to crime,” would never be able to assimilate.89

Following election campaign, in which the Conservative Party promised to increase “strict immigration control,” the next bill was introduced in 1971. The second Commonwealth Immigrant Act aimed at a more effective basis for control: the concept of “partiality.” Now, only the “patrials” had the right to enter the country. Patrials were British citizens who had a grandparent or parent born in the UK. The rest of the citizens were subjected to control. Additionally, the Government established a quota of 1 500 migrants annually.90

In 70s and 80 the main influx sources were from South Asia: India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, from the Caribbean and other Commonwealth countries such as Nigeria, Cyprus and Hong Kong, and also from South Africa and EC member states. Most of the newcomers from the “New Commonwealth” were secondary immigrants: relatives of those who arrived in 50s and early 60s. British immigration policy shifted then towards control of family reunifications: compared to German legislation on its first generation of guest workers, British regulation was ultra-restrictive towards husbands and fiancés – there was much concern of the high rate of bogus marriages and deception. In order to keep the number of issued permits to the minimum, entry-clearance procedures were sophisticated and long-term. Margaret Thatcher was for the reduction of the family reunifications too and urged putting an end to the concession of relatives. During her successful election campaign in 1979 one of her often quoted statements referred to the open concerns about post-colonial immigration: she claimed that “our own people” can be “swamped by the people with a different culture.”91 Under the Thatcher anti-multicultural government the National Curriculum for schools was changed with a stronger emphasis on white British history and a Christian ethos.92

New patterns of immigration

The following decades brought about other immigration inflows, of which the most discussed have been asylum seekers (due to unfavourable social opinion of them) and citizens of the East European countries (due to their high number). In the 90s several groups of refugees found shelter in the UK, among whom were the Vietnamese (24 000), Bosnians and Kosovans (6 500). Between 2000 and 2002 there was a peak of the asylum application: it rose to over 80 000, mostly from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. Although the numbers were not high, their arrivals always caused social discontent. Whereas migration of Eastern European Union citizens turned to be far above the official predictions –since 2004, when the government opened labour market to the new so called A8 European states, more than 500 000 workers from eastern UE moved to Britain over the past decade. Almost 70% of them have been Polish citizens.93 It became the largest migrant flow in British history since the post-colonial immigration. Thus, the top free “sender” countries in 2009 were Poland, India and Pakistan.94

2.2. From white imperialism to multiethnic equality

Casting an eye over the second half of the twentieth century, the immigration history in the UK is marked with the concept of “Britishness” which has been reconstructed in order to define social “we” against the non-white foreigners who in fact arrived as citizens of the English Empire. The origins of today’s multiethnic Britain were perplexing and became a turning point in British history, as it has been aptly put by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a well-known anti-racist commentator on issues relating to immigration:

“White Britons were failed historically by the political elite who did not prepare them for the changes that came after the war – and who still give out mixed messages about whether immigration has been a good thing for this nation. One moment people in Britain were being taught that they were the imperial masters who had the God-given responsibility to civilize the barbarians they controlled – the next minute these black and Asian people were in the work canteen demanding to be treated as equals. White Britons were told that black and Asians immigration was a threat but at the same time they were instructed to treat those already here as equals.”95

Over this period of time “Britishness” has been built around the racial attachment upon a simple notion: “to be white is to belong, and to be black is to be excluded.”96 (This belief has been questioned by more inclusive nationhood conception recently.) Post-war decades were characterised by the decolonizational massive immigration which was one of the main political issues throughout the years. Although there were other immigration flows, not less important in figures, from such regions as Ireland and EC (and later EU), they gained much smaller medial and political attention, as they were not viewed as the arrival of “other” cultures and religions, although they also built up a multicultural society of the UK.

Today’s immigration discourse is to some point less conservative on the racial issues and not that much focused on control, rather on assimilation policy and connected to it “migration management,” a phrase more and more often used by governmental officials. The term of “Britishness” has been also undergoing reconstruction. The immigration policy trend however is still selective: on the one hand encouraging “wanted” economic migrants such as skilled workers and international students and, on the other, restricting the measures of economically undesirable migrants such as asylum-seekers and irregular immigrants.

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