The economics of migration should be a celebratory occasion

Dr. C. Adrian Johnson

By Dr. Christopher A. Johnson

Amid claims and counterclaims about migratory trends, the central theme that is often ignored or left in abeyance, is that of the direct contribution migrants make to Britain. Their input encompasses a myriad of cultural, economic, educational, social and technological civility in modern times. Attempts at politicising the presence of immigrants without considering the background or the context, borders on the oversimplified version of ‘strangers in our midst’. The fact that few analysts or indeed commentators, have taken the time to explain the challenges and opportunities of the movement of people from one part of the world to another in this ‘day and age’, says much of the ethical deficit afflicting our sense of morality, let alone democratic values that we loudly proclaim [to be superior].

During the heyday of the British Empire, colonists came to the country in either a personal capacity or by invitation (from the British Crown). Those who arrived during the 17th and 20th centuries respectively, did so because of either personal choice or upon the invitation of the authorities, to supplement the labour pool. Traditionally, the unskilled (artisans) possessed innate entrepreneurial skills. These were evidenced by the number of small jobs they did to supplement meagre wages, never mind the questionable conditions of work and service they were subjected to. Many who operated buses, trains and other modes of transport, worked long hours to make ends meet. Those employed in the health service were a combination of doctors, nurses and ancillary staff. There are countless stories of highly trained medical practitioners who were forced to work in ‘geriatric clinics’ or units because of their inability to access job offers in other areas of the health service. Promotional opportunities were slim or practically denied in those days and yet these ‘outsiders’ made an extraordinary input into the health of the nation.

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Colonists especially from Africa, the Caribbean and the Indian sub-continent (before Partition) toiled for decades in the textiles industry as designers, cutters, machinists as well as carrying out other functions associated with this sector. Despite average working conditions, women displayed great commitment, dedication and resilience. They contributed to the profitability of reputable high street clothing chains and enhanced the national coffers (‘Wool, Jute and Flax Industry Training Board, Report 31st March 1967). The sweat equity of these women is yet to be factored into the equation, let alone the distorted debates on immigration-migration concurrent today (

Interestingly, others who worked in construction, roads and other industry segments, contributed equally, to the nation’s physical infrastructure and revitalised (what is known today as) the ‘built environment’. Nearly a century later, members of the second and third (and possibly the fourth) generation of migrant-settlers have fused levels of incredible public service with that of enterprise-related traditions. As citizens they represent a modicum of new economic and social values, not reflective of modern trajectories of citizenship vis-à-vis subjects of the Crown.

Today’s migrant generations are providing a unique stewardship to business and the professions, valuing billions to the economy. The incremental levels of educational attainments amongst minority ethnic communities including those who were once

under-achieving, is rather clear for all to see. The growing number of activists and politicians occupying seats in the legislature –locally, regionally and nationally –defies belief and smacks at the cynicism of our national discourse on the rights of citizenship and the values we attach to this realm of duty and responsibility. Ideological differences and other challenges, have not impeded some from maintaining their standing as MPs for decades in safe seats –certainly this must ‘count for something’, politically speaking.

As the tirade of debate rages on, the beneficiaries of migratory trends both in Britain and Europe, are the countries themselves. The challenges that this brings to nation-states, have a lot to do with the kind of arrangements in place to manage this historic trend. However, if we are to give credence to the labours of those who came to these shores to build/rebuild the economy, we should at least consider the following options:-

Dedicate a monument to honour the contribution of migrants from ex-colonies to business and the professions in the UK.

The national curriculum should include the unique contribution of former British colonists to the country.

A series of publications should be commissioned to pay homage to outstanding migrants who influenced changes to public services and cultural development in Britain.

All sections of the media should be encouraged to publish stories of first, second and third generation migrants’ contribution to British society.

Only by giving the ‘real’ oxygen of publicity to this ‘hidden truth’, can Britain as a state, negate recurring ridicule, aberration and vituperation of its past.

Dr. Christopher Johnson is an award-winning author, publisher and business management consultant. Dr. Johnson can be contacted at


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