The Pakistani Diaspora's perspective on Immigration to the

United Kingdom


This view on the issue comes from the perspective that the Pakistani Diaspora in the UK is over 1 million with majority of them having their second or third generations running. Many of them, hailing from a conservative family background, would want to maintain a close contact with their kith and kin in Pakistan. One important element of adherence to the values and traditions significantly includes arranged marriages within the family. This should be clarified at this point that the arranged marriages are different from the forced marriages. The latter is an important area of concern to the British Government. In this context, Britain, reportedly, engages with a number of countries including Pakistan.


This aspect has a bearing on the rate of immigration which a country of the size of UK is able to absorb. However, it may be note worthy that this particular aspect is not peculiar to Pakistani Britons alone but many other Britons of Asian, African, Middle Eastern and even Eastern European origins.


Furthermore, today’s situation of immigration, as an issue from the perspective of the British society, needs to be examined retrospectively. There are numerous reasons for foreigners’ migrating to a particular country. Compulsions such as persecution for ethnic reasons, political vendetta, and attractions such as the economic opportunities, glamour, social, cultural, and religious freedoms and other comforts of life not normally available in their native under-developed or developing countries are some of the most common motivation. However, another important reason could be shortage of manpower, skilled, semi-skilled or un-skilled in a particular country inviting migrants from other countries. The UK qualifies on all these counts.


Most of the above factors have historically contributed to the immigration of foreign nationals into the United Kingdom which becomes obvious when one looks at the events that have happened. For example, in mid 1940s across  Europe during and as an aftermath of World War II, in Africa in 1970s, political turmoil in East Asia in 1980s, ethnic persecution in the Balkans in early 1990s and internal factors in Britain such as sustained negative population growth rate for the period from 1974 until late 1980s, coupled with the ageing population problem all created space and appetite for foreign migrants.


One may note that during 1980’s job opportunities attracted large number of Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans with specialist skills and professional training, to move to the UK. The migrants usually serve both interests of all sides, parent country as well as the migrated country. Thus on one hand migrants served their own economic purpose, and on the other hand they also filled the gaps created in the UK’s labour market.


The UK is not the only country that entertained migrants from across the world but the USA, many European and Asian countries also accommodated scores of refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants. Despite all the economic difficulties and social issues, even Pakistan has hosted between three and four million Afghan refugees, in addition to Burmese, Iranians, Africans and Bengalis for both asylum and also economic reasons.


If the increasing number of immigrants starts to become a threat to the identity of the indigenous people, including those who may have acquired local nationality over the years, then if the government of the time is seen to take any measures to control the influx rate, it can be argued to be understandable. Whatever may be the intention of the Government at the time, whether to serve personal political gains or nationalist objectives; it must pay attention to the sensitivities of the migrants regarding their inherent cultural, societal and religious beliefs or values.


Therefore, if the curbing of migration becomes necessary, then the national policy should be such that it should help communities to become cohesive. The new comer must not become a burden to the country of migration, but should be able to make a social and economic contribution to it. UK is a country of opportunities, equality and diversity. Those who want to bring migrants into UK as their life partners or dependents should first ensure their ability and desire to adapt to the UK’s society and culture. The Pakistani Diaspora in the UK has done their best for this country and the overwhelming majority considers UK as their first home and the country of their origin as second. This allegiance should be reassuring for the people and the government of the UK.


The British-Pakistanis, who constitute 1.8% of the UK’s population, their businessmen’s segment alone contributes 2.19% to the GDP of the UK. There are distinguished Pakistanis who have reached the two august legislative assemblies and hence opened up avenues for those who want to play a constructive role in the country’s politics. They are an asset for the UK and a source of pride for Pakistan.


Nafees Mohammed Zakria

Asian British Connection (ABC) Think tank

27th January 2010


These views do not represent the Government of Pakistan’s position on the issue. Nafees Mohammed Zakria is the Political Secretary to the Pakistan High Commission in United Kingdom, London.


Some important timelines of immigration


1939 - Again with the outbreak of the Second World War, refugees seek to escape Nazi rule and the fighting by travelling to the UK

1946- Hundreds of thousands of people from across Eastern Europe seek refuge in the UK following the establishment of Communism

1948- Many West Indians decide to settle in Britain, which needs to boost its depleted workforce after WW2

1972- Approximately 28,000 Ugandan Asians settle in the UK after being expelled from Uganda

1975- Political unrest and war in South-East Asia results in many seeking a new life in Britain

1980s- Attracted by opportunities for those with specialist skills and professional training, large numbers of Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans move to the UK

1992 to 1998- Ethnic disputes in the Balkans force thousands to seek refuge in Western Europe. Many seek asylum in the UK

1998-2000- During these years 45,000 people arrive from Africa, 22,700 from the Indian sub-continent and 25,000 from Asia

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