Stirring the Pot

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s New Labour Party is back in the immigration game. Last February, the UK government introduced a new, Australian-style points system for non-EU immigrants, requiring English language proficiency as well as education and earnings minimums for the right to stay. With a growing population of Pakistani and Bangladeshi Britons who are undereducated, unemployed, and low earners, the British government’s stance reflects a politically brave and long overdue acknowledgement that its postwar immigration policy was problematic. It also reflects the acknowledgment that past efforts to help groups who immigrated during that time have been largely ineffective, and thus current immigration should be limited with this points system.

Meanwhile, curry restaurateurs are up in arms over “unfair discrimination” against Pakistani and Bangladeshi curry chefs, who often come to Britain with little formal education or English language proficiency. They complain that the new points system favors highly educated, English-speaking professionals and will reduce the number of curry chefs entering Britain, thus harming the curry industry.

Aside from protecting the British palate, these restaurateurs seem to want to have their curry and eat it too. Although they spiced up British cuisine, many British Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have had a difficult history, plagued with racial discrimination and economic disadvantage. The thriving British curry industry is not a side effect of British Pakistani and Bangladeshi upward mobility. A paper from the Department for Education and Skills found that just one percent of Bangladeshis and seven percent of Pakistanis held “high managerial or professional” jobs. Professor Tariq Modood, a sociologist at the University of Bristol, has published research that supports this; he found that Pakistani and Bangladeshi weekly earnings being the lowest of all ethnic groups in Britain.

Similarly, results from the Department for Education and Skills published in 2006 also show that Pakistani and Bangladeshi children in Britain have low levels of education, denoting a lack of progress since immigration. National exams taken at age 16—the General Certificate of Secondary Education—show that Pakistani and Bangladeshi children are well below the 40 percent mean of British children gaining 5 or more passing grades (C or higher in any subjects including English and Math), considered by the government to be a standard for passing high school. According to Professor Modood’s research, over 40 percent of Pakistani and Bangladeshi youths today still have no educational qualifications. In fact, the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have some of the lowest educational qualifications among all immigrant groups, even though many African and Caribbean Britons have similar socioeconomic profiles.

Pakistanis and Bangladeshis cannot claim lack of education prior to immigration as an excuse for their lack of progress either. Immigrants from the Caribbean arrived three generations ago, around the same time as the main influx of Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants, with over 70 percent lacking education. The number of Caribbean Britons lacking education is now less than 25 percent.

On top of low earnings and low educational standards, Professor Ceri Peach of Oxford University finds that Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in Britain have some of the highest levels of self-segregation of all ethnic groups in Britain. Although he acknowledges that poverty plays a role in residential segregation in disadvantaged neighborhoods, Peach argues that much of it is self-imposed, through a “positive desire for clustering” for cultural and linguistic reasons. Segregation can hinder learning in English-speaking British schools and limit job networking. In turn, this may limit job opportunities and success on the job, which usually requires an ability to communicate with the English-speaking British public.

Furthermore, the Muslim contingent, composing over 95 percent of British Bangladeshis and Pakistanis—or about 3 percent of the British population—is increasingly at risk of radicalization if the situation does not change. Independent research from the Center of Immigration Studies laments the likelihood of disadvantaged Muslims becoming involved with organized crime groups, and the possibility that they will be jailed and exposed to religious radicals during their time in prison.

In the face of economic stagnation and possible threats to national security through violence motivated by religious radicalism and/or social frustrations, perhaps defending gastronomic diversity is not the most important consideration.

Current initiatives to help Pakistani and Bangladeshis in Britain have had limited success. Before these initiatives can be expanded to include new waves of immigrants, they need to be overhauled and consolidated. In combination with existing anti-discrimination laws, community programs focused on bolstering British Pakistani and Bangladeshi children’s chances for educational success and opportunities for professional networking in combination could be the solution to the challenges they currently face.

The new points system marks a positive shift toward limiting UK immigration in order to solve problems among immigrants already in Britain. The points system is a departure from the endless revision of anti-discrimination acts—namely, the 1965 Race Relations Act recently expanded to include discrimination against religion and beliefs. Most importantly, the change reflects a realization that socioeconomic problems for some immigrant groups are more complicated, costly, and permanent than policy makers previously supposed.

In the meantime, immigration policy that favors highly educated professionals will result in lower numbers of curry chefs. This is not all bad. You can only eat curry so many times in one week.

Emily C. Ingram ’08, a Crimson editorial editor, is a government concentrator in Eliot House.