Saturday, February 5, 2011

Immigration 101

I take the ‘immigrant bus’ to work, through the not-so-posh suburbs of North West London. It’s just a regular city bus, filled with a rainbow of skin tones and the sound of foreign chatter. We have come from all over the world to try and make a life in this rain-soaked country. I often look around me and wonder what led these people to move to the UK. Some have undoubtedly come as highly skilled migrants, forced to take jobs well below their qualifications. Some have been brought over by established family members. We are all hard working.

I am exhausted at the end of the day, but I can only imagine I have it relatively easy in comparison. I can relax at home. I don’t have any children to tend to, and I am lucky enough to have a husband who takes care of most of the housework. As much time as it took me to get a job, and as stressful as moving here was, I only make up part of the ‘invisible minority’. I am an immigrant, but I have the luxury of not facing discrimination based on the colour of my skin. English is my native language, and my name probably didn't earn my CV an automatic spot in the ‘no’ pile.

Despite the fact that I have had an easier time of it than my fellow commuters, I was out of work for longer than I thought I'd be. Part of this was due to the British economy, which still has not fully recovered. But I suspect another reason was because I was a foreigner.

Up until recently, immigrants (especially highly educated ones) were a desirable addition to any developed country. Some countries were even built entirely on mass waves of immigrants (and on convenient eradication/displacement of the native peoples). Other countries continue to have their economy held up by illegal immigrants willing to perform the work no one else wants to do for the equivalent of slave wages. (Yes, Michael, I did just link to Wikipedia... get over it already!)

Now it seems as though governments and employers alike are shying away from immigration. From a business standpoint, this seems ridiculous to me. Who better to employ than a foreigner? Think about it. We are highly adaptable, cultured, and able to cope with adversity. We obviously handle ourselves well under pressure (customs officials, long queues waiting to register with the police, the frustration of trying to rent a flat or obtain a bank account), and we are willing to work very hard to be able to stay. Many of us also come with different ways of doing things, and we can provide that 'fresh perspective' you talked about in your poorly written job description. We know it's poorly written because, unlike you, we actually studied the language.

Language is another thing we offer. Because London is part of Europe, language skills are actually valued. In Canada, you will probably further your career by speaking both official languages, but additional languages are still undervalued. Unfortunately in the US, if you have an accent, instead of thinking of you as bilingual or multilingual, many people assume you are not very bright. Look at 'Apu' on The Simpsons. Most of the humour surrounding his character is based on the fact that he 'talks funny'. Sadly, the US has a long way to go before ceasing its monolingual bullying of other languages, but I suspect it will step up its game soon when it realises it needs to learn Mandarin.

I know many companies are nervous about hiring someone who may not stay beyond two or three years. But really, most people, especially those beginning their careers, don't stay too long in one company anyway. It is easier to make a lateral move to a better position than it is to get promoted internally. And foreigners are more likely to (visas permitting) stay in the country, considering how far they had to move to get there in the first place.

In an increasingly global economy, it only makes sense to hire proper global citizens. And yes, I actually used the term 'global citizens' in a job interview. I got that job. It seems some employers are still willing to look beyond their borders.

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