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Migrationís double standards

While the dominant story of the last few years has indeed been increasing immigration to the UK, population flows out have been largely absent from public discourse or research.

British emigration from the UK has also been growing rapidly. Indeed, there are more Brits living abroad than there are foreign born people living in the UK.

While a Brit moving abroad is seen as part of the natural order of things and facilitated by a plethora of ‘Place in the Sun’ type programmes, immigration to the UK is often seen as something that should be curbed. Yet it seems contradictory that some Brits have themselves become immigrants overseas to escape the perceived inundation of foreign immigrants in the UK.

Similarly, the commonly held expectation that immigrants should fully integrate does not seem to apply to every British emigrant in every country.

In some parts of the Costa del Sol, it is acceptable to criticise immigrants in the UK for ‘imposing new religions’ and ‘speaking incomprehensible languages’ while sitting in one of the many British pubs where the question ‘me gustaria una copa de tinto?’ is met with confused stares.

So what explains this antithetical behaviour? The answer is simple: many Brits do not see themselves as immigrants. This is well exemplified by British reactions to a headline from an English-speaking newspaper based on the Costa del Sol which read ‘Foreigners in Spain responsible for much of Spain’s violent crime’.

Respondents (and the paper) naturally imagined these foreigners not as Britons but as Eastern Europeans. If Brits don’t see themselves as immigrants, why should they attempt to integrate?

And what makes the notion of a British immigrant so difficult? The answer lies mainly with the way in which ‘immigrants’ are conceptualised in the UK, centred within constructs of race, religion and ethnicity. Many British expats do understand the parallels, ironic or otherwise, of the British migration debate. Promisingly, the experience of living as a foreigner is making other Brits more empathetic and less critical of immigrants in the UK.

So when we expect the few EU citizens from Bulgaria who are allowed to work here to fully integrate into UK society, perhaps we should bear in mind the Bulgarian language skills of Brits moving to Bansko.

 

Catherine Drew
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2007