THE BLOG

British Jobs For British People: A Migratory Perspective

19/08/2013 14:56 BST | Updated 19/08/2013 14:56 BST

I came to this country about forty years ago. I had an MSc in physics and my undergraduate degree was in physics and maths. I applied for and luckily got a reasonably good job within a few weeks and even changed jobs a few times in the next two years. I stayed at home for three years when I had my daughter and yet managed to find a job when I was ready to go back to work. In all those occasions there were British candidates who I beat. From the outside it looked like I took their jobs and I am sure some of them blamed foreigners like me for crowding the job market and stealing their opportunities. But what they did not care to know was that in each of those occasions I was not only better qualified than them, I was also over qualified for the jobs I applied for.

This has always been a pattern for the immigrant job seekers. In 1960s and 70s, many young highly qualified science and engineering graduates came from India in search of a job. They were welcome then - respected as 'knowledge workers' - because there was a shortage in those areas. They were not given jobs but job vouchers which enabled them to get their visas. They came here and they all found work but what the picture did not show was that they were all under-employed. The science graduates worked as technicians in labs; the engineers got junior level jobs and remained there for many years. They swallowed their pride and survived. They lied to their friends and relatives at home about their positions. Despite the myth, I do not know of anyone from India who lived on benefits. When they went back on holidays they took advantage of the favourable conversion rate in currency and the lower cost of living to demonstrate their financial success. While working, they studied part time to improve their qualifications and those with ambition and ability made some progress. But one thing never changed - not for them and not for me - we always had to have more qualifications, work much harder, perform much better, and watch our steps more closely, to be able to get anywhere. And, even after all that, I do not know any of the first generation immigrants who have got to the top levels. I do know a few who did achieve some seniority only to lose their jobs altogether when the regime changed. I know of a few doctors who, having been stuck at the lower levels of the career ladder in hospitals for many years, decided to become GPs. The above were all from the educated middle classes but the journeys for those from different backgrounds were not that different. They also struggled through comparable stages of low pay and humiliation but they all survived and eventually succeeded to become law-abiding, tax-paying, and sometimes revenue-generating citizens.

The story for the women is worse. They did not come to this country the same way as the men did. Some highly qualified women went to American universities with scholarships for further studies. They did not come to this country because the universities here did not offer scholarships and at home the women were not encouraged to set out on their own in search of the unknown. The above men went back home and married some of those bright, highly qualified women whose parents got fooled by the glamour of their financial power. All of the women I know who came this way were graduates and many had higher qualifications. They found jobs in offices, doing clerical work, with others who sometimes had a few school leaving qualifications, sometimes not. I know someone with a Masters in maths who applied to become a school teacher only to be told that her qualifications, being Indian, were not recognised even in the days when qualified maths graduates were in very short supply. I did better because I was bloody minded and I happened to have been in the right place at the right time. Luck, timing, strategy, ability and toughness were and are needed to survive and thrive as a strong, educated and intelligent woman, of colour, in a new country.

Now, forty years later, people from places like India can no longer come to this country on the same basis. They are not given the opportunity to use their skills to make a future for themselves even when they are prepared to go through the same humiliation. However, the immigrants from poorer European countries are and the stories for them are the same. They are highly skilled people, competing for jobs they are over-qualified for and in some cases they are succeeding. This is not depriving British people of the same category; this is an employer preferring to give the job to a worker who gives him a better service. Tesco and Next are doing what I did - I asked the Bulgarian builder who did my tiling if he knew any good plumbers.