Birds of a new passage

One of the more curious global developments today is the closing, if you wish, of the British mind to immigration. Anti-immigration is now part of the policy platform of all the major political parties, though arguably strongest with the Conservatives. Britain is experiencing economic difficulties but is probably better off than many Western economies. And it isn’t race: brown and black migration peaked in then 1970s and 1980s. As surveys are showing, the largest foreign born populations in Britain today are Poles, Romanians and other overwhelmingly white groups.

Mind you, this new influx is arguably even more disconcerting for some Englishmen. I was surprised some years ago to find at a Westminister post office, in the heart of London, no one at the counter who spoke English — or at least good enough to know what a postcard was. There were Portuguese, sundry East Europeans and so on.

But Britain, whose Anglo-Saxon openness to migrants could be said to have inspired the United States, Canada and Australia, is closing shop. This is particularly striking for Indians, a nation which has seen Blighty as a symbol and icon of the desi diaspora story, even as the number of new Indian-born citizens has been reduced to a trickle.

However, Indian migration continues apace. What seems to be happening is that its direction is changing. Resource rich and thus growing nations like Canada and Australia are becoming ever more avid in bringing in Indians. Small developed nations that are not traditionally seen as part of the immigration story of India are getting a steady stream of desis. Sweden, for example, where I was told by a Swedish diplomat the single largest intake of legal, normal migrants is now Indians. Germany is also starting to see some South Asian frisson. But eastward we see Singapore and the new immigrant pact signed with India should start to have an impact in the coming years.

The biggest story remains the United States, the new Indian migration icon and the primus inter pares in the number of Indians it takes in. The H-1b visa story is probably doomed. But the new immigration reform bill, while it may not pass, nonetheless is an indication of where the US is going. The new hunt for global entrepreneurs, job creators rather than merely jobbers, permeates the bill. It would make it easier for an Indian student to become a citizen than a temporary work visa techie. Migration would continue — it might actually increase, but it would come in a different shape and size.

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