Immigration: The myths and realities

It would be easy to entitle this post “I learned all I know about immigration from The Daily Mail” (or telly, or that film from the ’80s with that huge-nosed French guy). But the myths about immigration are not just held by those who buy the red top tabloids or live somewhere in home counties (or in the case of the US, “real America”). People of all sorts of political persuasions have shown in their arguments and discussions about migration to not fully understand the system(s). If we are going to have real discussions about immigration and migration, we need people to know some basic facts about it.

So sit back, forget what you think you know, and I hope by the end of it, you will be standing on better ground to make your arguments either for or against continued immigration.

Myth # 1- If you marry a Brit (or American), you automatically have residency (or better still, citizenship) in their country.
We’re told this a lot in the media, less so in the press but more so as a familiar narrative to many television shows and films. In reality, there are financial tests you have to pass because you can’t claim benefits in either country for years after you arrive (more on that later). You then have to live as a resident for a few years before applying for either permanent residency and then citizenship (UK, but this process is changing) or citizenship (US). The US route also includes medical checks.

Having a child won’t make the process any quicker. It also doesn’t entitle you to British (or American in the case of American born children) citizenship or residency either.

It’s not impossible for most, but for those just leaving uni or those who find themselves unemployed or even in a low paying job, it can take years to get it sorted. It’s not automatic, although it is a lot easier for EU migrants to bring their families into the UK. Which brings me to…

Myth #2- People moving to the UK from the EU are immigrants and all immigrants follow the same laws.

Well, no. People who move to the UK exercising their rights under EU law aren’t considered immigrants. They are EU migrants. They have the right to move to the UK to seek work, school, set up a business just like Brits have the right to move to anywhere in the EEA.

If your town or city has no work, you indeed have the right to move anywhere in the EEA (slightly larger than the EU). People from elsewhere in the EEA have the right to move here. The process is simple. You get your passport and leave. Of course, this means that people can move here to the UK rather simply too.

Immigrants from outside the EU have no such rights. Which brings me to the next myth…

Myth #3- It’s cheap or even free to immigrate to the UK.

No. It’s free to migrate as a EEA national. It’s not free to immigrate outside the EEA. It was significantly cheaper years ago, but when all is said and done, someone like me will have paid thousands of pounds for the right to live here with my husband. The cost goes up every year with some observers expecting the people who are entering now will pay about £10,000 for the entire process.

More information on the current fees can be found here. Remember, everyone has to apply for a few of these before eligible for citizenship.

Banging on about immigration isn’t going to change EEA migration. It’s just going to make it harder for non-EEA immigrants, and in turn, harder for British citizens who marry people from outside the EU. Oh, and for people like the guy who runs your local curry house and needs to hire Indian workers. Do you really want a Brit making your chicken tikka? Do you really think many Brits would make your chicken tikka if offered that job?

Myth #4- Brits (or Americans) can’t hold dual citizenship This is a dated myth in the case of Americans and I don’t think it was ever the case for Brits. People who naturalise in either country do not have to give up their citizenship provided that country allows dual citizenship.

Myth #5- Immigrants can collect benefits. No, migrants can. Legal immigrants cannot for years after immigrating. Full stop. Doesn’t happen. The Mail is wrong on this one. Having a child here doesn’t make you eligible for benefits either.

Myth #6- If someone wants to move to the UK from anywhere in the world, they just need apply. No. Outside the EU, most people can’t come to the UK even if they wanted to.

If you don’t have a Master’s degree, a special skill or expertise, a lot of money to start a business, work for a multinational which transfers employees, married to a Brit or EEA national, or are a student of means, you aren’t coming here without British or proof you are an EEA national. It used to be a bit easier, especially for students, but that has all changed recently.

Myth #7- If your grandparents were born in the UK, you can come live here easily. No. There used to be a route to residency if you were a citizen of a country in the Commonwealth, but this “ancestry visa” is no longer a route to citizenship. It was never an option to most people regardless of their ethnic background.

And just because someone is of British heritage doesn’t mean they get an easier time with other visas. I didn’t get to jump the queue just because most of my family is descended from people who came from Wales, England, and Ireland a few generations ago. This confused my sister-in-law to no end. She figured I’d get a special bonus for my ethnicity and speaking English. Turns out, it just means I don’t have to have my documents translated for immigration applications.

Myth #8- Immigrants can vote Most can’t. Immigrants from the Commonwealth can and EEA nationals who are living here can. The majority of immigrants cannot.

Myth #9- Brits, Americans, and so on are expats when they move to another country. Although I use the term, it doesn’t mean I am not an immigrant. A Ugandan living in the UK is an expat. A Brit with residency in Australia is an immigrant as well as an expat. Brits in the EU, however, are migrants.

Immigration is huge issue for many families in the UK, but the only way we are going to have a grown up debate about it is to stop reading the tabloids’ take on it. They aren’t here to inform you. They are here to swing your vote. Every last one of them. I don’t care who you are, if you’re coming to the table to talk about immigration, please make sure you understand what immigration is about first.


1 Response to “Immigration: The myths and realities”

  1. 22nd Apr 2010 at 14:34

    Touching on the expat thing, another thing that really bothers me is that people assume expat is short for ex-patriot, not expatriate.

    An Expatriate (expat) is a person residing in a country and culture other than the one they were raised in.

    an ex-patriot would be someone who no longer is a patriot – that is, a supporter of their home country. I really get tired of people (both Brits and Americans) who ask me if I now hate America because I’ve moved here, or if I moved because I hated America.

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