The influx of immigrants in Britain has surged, reaching a notable increase in UK immigration at 672,000 migrants. Non-EU nationals, particularly Indians, constitute a significant portion of these immigrants, amounting to 253,000 individuals. Over the past decade, the UK's political landscape has been shaped by significant immigration levels, surpassing the 2015 figure by more than double. As the nation grapples with labour shortages, especially in healthcare, special visa schemes have been crucial. The UK is anticipated to witness increased immigration from non-EU nations. Notably, the government issued a record 1.2 million visas in the first half of 2023, a 157% surge compared to the previous year, responding to heightened demand for foreign workers to address workforce shortages. The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) migration statistics, analysed by the UK Home Office, underscore the significant role of skilled Indians in British society and economy. While 'Skilled Worker' visas experienced a modest 9% increase, 'Skilled Worker – Health and Care' visa grants more than doubled with a notable 135% rise to 143,990. Indian nationals, alongside Nigerians and Zimbabweans, witnessed the most substantial increases in this visa category. However, following restrictions on overseas students bringing dependants, Indians no longer constitute the largest group in this category. Additionally, Indians rank among the top nationalities for voluntary returns, after Albanians. Yet the yoke of crisis management and lack of validation for their contribution to British society is what lingers on when it comes to immigrants getting their due.
Nearly half of the most innovative companies have immigrant founders
UK Prime Minister, amidst mounting concerns about rising immigration figures, hosted the Global Investment Summit at Hampton Court Palace in London. In light of these challenges, the British Indian leader took a moment to recognise the invaluable contributions of skilled workers from abroad. Emphasising the nation's openness to global talent, he remarked, "We don't have a monopoly on talent in this country," citing that nearly half of the most innovative companies have immigrant founders. He assured that the UK boasts the most competitive visa regime for highly skilled international talent, making it an optimal destination for investment and business. The recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) release underscored the substantial role of skilled Indians in Britain's society and economy.
Immigrants backbone of the NHS
Immigrants compensate to cover up for the dire need for more staff at the NHS in order to clear its backlog. Robert Jenrick, the Immigration Minister, has formulated proposals to limit foreign health and care workers in the UK to bring only one relative. There are indications from certain sources that the Home Office might even consider a complete prohibition on bringing dependants. Additional measures under consideration involve imposing a cap on the recruitment of NHS and social care workers from overseas, along with revisions to the minimum salary requirements for foreign workers. At the beginning of last year, the government introduced a new immigration pathway, extending the health worker visa program to encompass care workers.
Fostering progress, creating jobs
Reflecting on his role as the Deputy Mayor of London for Business and Chairman of London and Partners, Rajesh Agrawal highlighted, “Over the past seven years, our direct initiatives have generated 330,000 new jobs in London, equivalent to the entire population of Leicester. To enhance employee working conditions, I initiated the Good Work Standards charter, benefiting 255,000 Londoners. We launched the Mayor’s International Business programme, aiding businesses in global expansion. Amidst Covid-19, I formed a coalition of 25 diverse business organizations.” Addressing national concerns, Rajesh remarked, “Our NHS is in dire straits, education standards have declined, and public services face cuts. Britain's global standing has diminished, requiring a collective change. The Labour government and the entire nation, including the Asian community, must contribute to this transformation.”
“As a tech entrepreneur, I'm passionate about digital technology and new skills. Our focus will be on developing skills for tomorrow's jobs, fostering progress towards a new age and economy. We must prepare for shifting global geopolitics, aligning with Britain's strategic interests,” Rajesh added.
Agrawal, an exemplary immigrant in the UK for 22 years, prompts reflection on why the burden of reforms and crisis management often falls on immigrants despite negative perceptions. Some of the UK's wealthiest individuals are immigrants, as highlighted in the Sunday Times Rich List for 2023. The Hinduja family, with £35 billion, tops the list, followed by Lakshmi Mittal (£16 billion) and Akshata Murthy, rumoured to be wealthier than the late Queen of England. Business figures like Surinder Arora and Jasminder Singh have significantly contributed to the UK's economy, creating numerous jobs. There is undoubtedly a caveat that Asians in the UK don't invest in philanthropy as much as the US diaspora, but there is a lot that the community has done to help the nation. Ugandan Asians, the current breed of politicians and community members are immigrants.
On the 40th anniversary of the Ugandan Expulsion, Lord Dolar Popat highlighted the significant contributions of Ugandan Asians across various fields, including politics, journalism, sport, public services, and business. Their achievements underscore the positive impact of the Ugandan Asian community in shaping diverse aspects of British society.
Promise versus reality
The education sector in the UK holds promise for reforms and underscores the significant contributions of immigrants. While challenges persist, such as the practice of agents attracting international students without adequate support, the UK's commitment includes quality education, infrastructure, and post-study work visas. In 2022/2023, Indian students led UK study visas, marking a 2% increase for main applicants. Students and dependants accounted for 39% (378,000) of long-term non-EU immigrants, with a rise of 58,000 from the previous year. However, from January 2024, most students won't be allowed to bring dependents to reduce net migration, as per government regulations. In an earlier interview with the newsweekly, NISAU UK Chairperson Sanam Arora emphasised the positive impact of post-study work visas, fostering job opportunities, entrepreneurship, and contributions to the UK, dispelling anti-immigration rhetoric and encouraging a better life for students.
Encouraging more investment from Indian businesses, Sir Keir Starmer had gone on record to say, “There are things that we can do and one of those fortunes is going to be the partnership arrangement where businesses and government work together, strategically over a period of time.” Immigrants are important in not just the socio-cultural fabric of the UK, but also in the larger economic and political scenario as well. The UK has always given importance to immigrants, even though they do not have the right to vote - also many of them aren’t vote - Commonwealth citizens. But immigrants have a voice. The country needs more immigrants for more positive contributions. Britain must not forget that the Covid vaccine originated and was disseminated with the help of immigrants. Diwali, Eid, Holi, Navratri and many other festivals are celebrated with grandeur in the UK - only because of the immigrant community. The head of the state is an immigrant, the healthcare sector is surviving because of immigrants, tikka masalas are sold across the country because of immigrants, and yet the British curriculum doesn’t teach its citizens about the hundreds of years of British colonial history and its aftermath on developing countries. Today, the FTA between India and the UK and ongoing ties within the Living Bridge are making up for the lost years and forging new ties.