8 December 2018

How Might We Relate Migration to Class?

By Eszter Pordany
I’m Eszter Pordany. I originally was born in Hungary, and moved to London to study, when I was about 14. Since then, unfortunately I have been faced with several inevitable disadvantages a so called “migrant” has to go through in the UK! As a sociology student I aim to contribute to issues in such a multicultural society, that perhaps aren’t given as much attention to as they would require. My main interests include: Prejudice/ discrimination- especially racism, migration as well as addiction to illegal substances. 

Migration in contemporary society is an extremely well-discussed and concerning issue to some. In order to begin to explore how migration might be related to different social classes, it is essential to outline to what definitions of the above-mentioned terms I shall refer to throughout this piece. Stephen Castles, Professor of Sociology at the University of Sydney alludes to ‘migration’ within his work, as being a “transitory, moving from place to place”, with the general aim of permanent stay (Castles, 2007). With regards to the term of ‘social class’ I have used Karl Marx’s definition as through this work I will be associating a few arguments with Marxist concepts. Marx argued, that “a class is defined in relation to the broad structure of the property system” and hence “a group of people belong to the same class when they occupy the same position within the property system governing labour, physical assets, and perhaps intangible assets” (Marx and Engels, 2010).

The structure of the essay was highly inspired by a book I have come across during my research – “A Seventh Man” written by John Berger (Berger, 2010). Berger divides his work into three sections, all portraying a different aspect of migrants’ life. Within this piece, I will use a similar frame by exploring lower class migration from consequential aspects, while maintaining the focal argument of the essay: migration of lower class is seen as not being desirable, in fact is of concern.

The aim of this work, is to introduce how the government responds to the “crisis” lower class migration causes, and explores the pre-cautions are being made, whether they are horrible situations created for them, or governmental policies. On the other hand, middle / upper class migration is not paid near as much attention to as lower class, and does not imply a deviant behaviour. Hence, by concentrating on lower class migration and its subsequent effect on the migrants, as well as the lack of research dedicated to middle class movements within a European context, I shall come to the conclusion that the Net Migration Policy was doomed to failure, and methodological practices studying migration are highly questionable.

To begin, the International Organisations for Migrants (IOM) offers a more in depth, coherent description for who a migrant is – “ any person who is or has moved across international borders or state away from his habitual place of residence regardless of person’s legal status, voluntary or involuntary, cause of length (“International Organization for Migration,” n.d.). Historically, lower class migration towards the United Kingdom started as early as the beginning of the 16th century, by transporting African migrants as slaves, to the country.

However, as the aftermath of the second world war left many European economies being underdeveloped, a huge migration wave appeared towards the UK around 1960s, which led demographers as well as sociologists to begin to explore patterns concerning the issue (Walia, 2013). It is important to highlight that bearing in mind all studies produced on migration, the starting point of each is identical. The idea behind studies is to explain why people move from one place to another, while no work by authors so far have tried to discuss the forces that cease people towards not moving (Berger, 2010). The methodological criticism proposed by Berger reinforces the argument mentioned above, that a huge deal of attention is given to lower class migration. The emphasis on the “move away” is mostly associated by impoverished economies and hence people from the lower part of the social ladder, while it is not considered for which reasons people choose to stay within a country. Now, of course not everyone from the lower class can allow themselves to migrate, as it does require a certain financial stability to begin a ‘new life’ elsewhere. However, in my opinion choosing to ‘stay’ is more likely to be associated with higher social classes as they are not in extreme need for improving their circumstances of living.

To extend on the previous paragraph, I will focus on the everyday life of lower class migrants and the stigmas attached to them. The common attitude towards foreign people entering the UK from lower backgrounds, is the following: lack of education, and employment within manual unskilled work. I shall expand on the topic of education later on throughout this work, however the argument of this paragraph will circulate among the assumption of “manual unskilled work”. Firstly, politicians as well as critics of migration do not seem to realise that migration does not only serve the worker who is eagerly trying to extend his way of living but in fact, what the transitory does on a macro scale is “transferring valuable economic resource – human labour- from the poor to rich countries” (Samers, 2017). As this work is dedicated to introduce a European context, people that had been born in Europe but have migrated to the UK, made up 7.6% of the working part of the population in 2017 (“Migrants in the UK Labour Market,” n.d.). I would like to propose a view as for why lower class migrants are employed within “manual unskilled work”, but for now the emphasis is on the outrageous fact, that even though 7.6% of the employment in the UK is occupied by European people (whether manual unskilled, or professional jobs), there is still a negative stigma attached to them. Being part of hospitality or a nurse for the National Health Service, the “poor migrants” support the economy of the United Kingdom! However, the media as well as politicians seem to portray migration in a negative picture, where the country is being penetrated by strangers, with no benefit whatsoever towards the government. The data indicated, was produced based on the Labour Force Survey (2017). Even though the survey is fairly recent, questionnaires are not the most reliable methods of research. Employment is noted between the age of 16 to 64, however of course there are children in the work force, below the legal age or perhaps elderly people above 64. Hence, the survey designates an estimate of what percentage European born migrants make up for the working population of the UK.

Following from the above outlined thought, lower class migrants are typically employed within manual unskilled work. The reason behind, is because they are not in possession of a British passport / citizenship, and albeit are not entitled to privileges such documents carry. Nationalistic ideologies, the fear of risking losing “Britishness”, have led the government to introduce policies making it extremely difficult for incoming migrants to gain a passport, and /or citizenship. In April 2005, a “Life in the UK test” was introduced. The questionnaire is aimed to test a general knowledge of the everyday life of Britain (“Viewpoint,” 2017). It’s worth to mention that the questions are highly selective, interpreting an ‘ideal, peaceful’ picture of the UK. However, the significance of the test, is that it is crucially needed when applying for both citizenship as well as British passport. Lower class migrants might not only struggle with the fees indicated along the application, but perhaps face difficulties arising with the language of the formal test. Hence, this is how the United Kingdom is aiming to maintain its nationalistic ideas. Lower class migrants struggle to gain citizenship within the country, due to the policies produced. As a consequence, they are “exploited in manual work”, by their middle-class British peers (Marx and Engels, 2010). Therefore, they are forced into a situation where due to the lack of privileges lower class migrants occupy, they are placed on the bottom of the social ladder. But most importantly, migrants can only stay in the United Kingdom for so long, if they do not have a document proving their national roots relating to Britain.

Additionally, another extremely relevant factor affecting foreign, lower class people in England especially, is education. To begin, first generation migrants (parents), have been educated in their origin country. Notably, whether the degree of an education is finishing secondary school or university educated, unless there has been a qualification provided in English, they do not matter. For instance, while conducting research amongst lower class migrants, I have come across a Hungarian national female, working in a restaurant as a waitress. Fighting with tears as she spoke, she told me that she had graduated university as a teacher in Hungary, and had moved to the UK, to pursue a career in relation to her passion -education and children. However, due to the system operating in England, she was refused all teaching jobs she had applied for. Only for the simple reason, that the document had not been professionally translated. The cost of professional translators, exceed lower class migrants’ budget in most cases. In addition to that, the long process involved, also provides them with a devastating, shameful feeling that they are in fact outsiders, and not wanted in the country. This example clearly indicates that the perceived idea being that people who “seek to migrate are non-educated” (Yakushko, 2013) is false. In fact, lower class migrants are educated perhaps even to a high level, but due to their financial situation they are not able to begin to build a career within the area of degree. This can have a significantly negative effect on their self-esteem, constantly facing rejection. Secondly, the subject of education plays a massive part in second generation migrants as well. Children of lower class migrants that were not born in the United Kingdom and hence do not occupy a British passport are put in a very difficult situation when it comes to studies. Beginning with secondary school, before the GCSEs examination, in most cases students are not allowed to choose their optional courses themselves. There is a strong association that “their spoken and written English is not up to standards, they would struggle” and so on. Hence, as a first step, they are prevented from studying according to their aspirations. Such limitations will inevitably affect opportunities within further studies, for example college or university. In terms of universities, there is an estimated number of 135,000 (2016) students born in Europe, currently studying in the United Kingdom (“UKCISA - international student advice and guidance - International student statistics: UK higher education,” n.d.) With the introduction of increased tuition fees, lower class migrant students struggle even more. Even though, they are entitled to a loan, the whole process is very complex and discouraging. Firstly, in most cases an “EU Migrant Worker” title is given to the applicant. Such title carries an extreme amount of weight and complicates the circumstances of the application for the loan. Most students from lower class families are required to either full- or part time employment whilst completing their degree, in order to support the family. Applicants for the EU Migrant Worker loan are asked to send various different evidence, to prove their status. Starting with contract regarding employment, an estimated income and so on. In addition to that, within most cases proof from origin countries are requested too, such as legal document of divorced parents (where applicable), or birth certificate. The abovementioned evidence also has to be professionally translated in order to be accepted and processed. Lower class students moving to the United Kingdom with high aspirations of studying, pursuing to build a successful future, are soon becoming disheartened by the lack of support from the government. Furthermore, due to the very long and exhausting process of the loan application, which may be rejected migrant student might find themselves in a position where they have to drop out. Especially after the increased fees, lower class migrants are not able to pay tuition themselves, and due to their circumstances loans get rejected. Hence, in some cases as the governments lacks support towards highly motivated foreign students, they are denied the education they were aiming to pursue. Albeit, the above outlined thought regarding lower class migrants within manual unskilled work, shall be implemented onto second generation migrants. Such process is referred to as “segmented assimilation”, in which the children of immigrants become incorporated into the system of stratification of the host country (O’Reilly, 2012). In most cases, the result of the process is following into certain sectors of society – manual unskilled work, as well as continued prejudice against them.

Before exploring migration among middle / upper class, I shall present the purpose of the Net Migration Policy. The Net Migration Policy had been introduced by the Coalition Government in 2010. The aim of the legal document was to achieve a balance of “migrants in minus migrants out”, hence the number of people entering and leaving the United Kingdom, should be equal (Anderson, 2013). The policy has various flaws, concerning the definition of who is seen as a migrant. No clear descriptions are outlined regarding the issue, and hence it will inevitably be a failure. However, as long as there is no equal amount of research dedicated to in- and outgoing migrants the numbers will always be an estimate and hence the Net Migration will not be zero, as desired.

To continue, having outlined the stigma attached and struggles associated with lower class migrants, the situation with middle/ upper class migration seems to be significantly different. As above mentioned hardly any research is being dedicated towards the issue. Demographers as well as sociologists are so concerned with migration being a “move in search for work and survival” (Walia, 2013) and hence a movement indicating “poor” lower class families, that the idea of lifestyle migration for any other reason than survival is not being researched as much as perhaps it would need to be. Benson and O’Reilley have however, carried out a study focusing on outgoing migration from Britain, amongst middle / upper class. Their research is very eye-opening, but most importantly it investigates a topic that is seen “taboo” in the contemporary society and brings attention to issues that remain unnoticed. Before exploring middle class migration patterns from the United Kingdom, it is essential note that as of 2013, the emigration (outgoing migration) rate stood at 6.5% (“United Nations Population Division | Department of Economic and Social Affairs,” n.d.) As indicated earlier within this work the European born workforce made up 7.6% of the United Kingdom in 2017. Even though there is a four years gap between each study, the figures indicate that there is a tiny difference between outgoing migration from Britain and European migrants working in Britain. And if so, why is there such a focus on lower class migration? The reason why Britons – mostly middle -class people choose to migrate, does not seem to be a concern of the government.

To extend on the above thought, middle class migration from Britain is mostly associated with elderly people / pensioners. For this piece, to stay within a European context I will refer to Spain as the host country of British middle- class migrants. To reinforce the argument proposed and expanded throughout this work, it is essential to note that lifestyle migration of middle class from the UK, towards Spain started around 1970s. Near the same time as lower -class movements towards the United Kingdom, and even in recent days, they are not being investigated equally. The reason behind, is that lower-class people are not making a choice to migrate out of freedom but they are in fact, in need of a change for a better life. Hence, they are the “outsiders, penetrators” (Samers, 2017) of Britain- the people that the government needs to get rid of.  On the other hand, middle-class especially elderly people are freely choosing to migrate, as their survival is not at stake. Instead, the aim of migration associated with people upper on the social ladder, is to improve their quality of life. Bearing in mind, the statement “improving the quality of life” (O’Reilly, 2012) is bound to symbolise extremely different meanings to lower- and upper class. In relation to the lower -class migration and ‘improving the quality of life’ may very well be the question of starvation or access to food. For them, there is something at stake. However, when sociologists argue ‘improving the quality of life’ in association with middle class that is meant factors, such as the weather! Wealthy people of Britain are moving to Spain, to “recreate little England in the Sun” (britsabroad17, 2018). In addition to that, British migration to Spain has become such a trend, that they have formed their own communities there. In comparison with lower class migrants entering the United Kingdom, British people in Spain are not forced to learn the language and assimilate with the host country’s culture. Middle- class migrants are living freely, within their own culture that just happens to be at a different place. However, the government within the United Kingdom does not make a note of their own citizens leaving the country.

Having outlined both lower- and middle- class migration patterns within a European context, I must come to the conclusion that the titles, stigmas given by the British government with regards to “migrants” are false. As for citizens living within the European Union – whether the country is being Hungary, Spain or the United Kingdom, they are entitled to the freedom of movement within the Union. And hence, the concept of an “EU immigrants does not exist” (Anderson, 2013). Consequently, the Net Migration Policy investigating in-and out movements of the United Kingdom, strictly paying attention to European nationals is wrong. Due to the legal free movement within countries a “migrant” title cannot be given to people moving across boarders within the Union. There is a such negative attitude associated with migration that every person who has not been born in the UK becomes seen as a migrant. The failure of the Net Migration Policy is to produce a definition of who shall be counted as a migrant. Because, as of 2018 the “migrant” title cannot be given to citizens of the European Union regardless of current place of residence within the Union. Making note of the fallacy of the concept of “migrant”, it is understandable why is there such a significant emphasis on Brexit. Had the United Kingdom left the European Union, the titles would in fact apply. Until then, notably whether foreign lower class people in the United Kingdom are referred to as “migrants” or not, their lifestyle migration highly differs from those upper class families leaving Britain. As argued throughout this work, lower class movements seem to cause chaos for the government, and there is an urge to prevent further motions. With reference to that, attention remains focused on ‘poor’ migrants, while middle class people move away to reinforce an extended holiday for their families.

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