A national hero, but Kelly would never have had chance under Tory proposals

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The Independent Online

Michael Howard's blueprint to tackle immigration yesterday sparked a bitter debate about the benefits of economic migration.

Michael Howard's blueprint to tackle immigration yesterday sparked a bitter debate about the benefits of economic migration.

While the Tory party portrays Britain as a nation under siege from "literally millions" of foreigners dreaming of a better life, there are those who prefer to see the positive contribution played by new arrivals.

Britain, they argue, would be a much poorer place both culturally and economically should Mr Howard's vision have prevailed over the last three generations. The losses would be felt in the transport and health services, the arts, sport and, crucially, commerce.

Britain has experienced dramatic leaps before in numbers of immigrants - such as a surge in West Indian arrivals in 1960 and 1961 - but immigration has reached a historic high under Tony Blair.

In 1997, net migration stood at 46,800. By 2003, it had risen to 151,000. Not all of those 151,000 will remain in the country; many will be travelling to Britain on one- or two-year work permits.

The Home Office argues the sharp rise is not proof of incompetence, but the result of a deliberate policy to fill gaps in the labour market - 30 per cent of all NHS staff, and 40 per cent of new dentists, are foreign- born; and skilled artisans, such as builders and plumbers, are all in short supply.

In 2003, 151,000 people applied for permanent residency in this country, a sharp rise on 58,000 applications in 1997. The rise reflects the increase in numbers of immigrants under Government schemes to attack skills shortages.

The number of asylum-seekers (excluding dependants) rose from 32,500 in 1997 to 84,130 in 2002, falling back to 49,405 in 2003. The figure for last year is believed to fallen towards 40,000.

Voters' hostility to immigration is hardening, with the British Social Attitudes Survey discovering three-quarters now want a cut in the numbers allowed in.

But, its supporters say, immigration brings potential and the chance for society to change. So who would be denied entry into Howard's Britain?

The Pathaks

Husband and wife Shantagaury and Laxmishanker Pathak arrived in London's Kentish Town from Kenya in 1955. Their story remains one of the most inspiring. Armed with £5, and a life insurance policy, the family began what was to become the largest Asian food business in Europe. They began selling samosas from a tiny room but over the years the business was transformed by successive waves of immigration and the unstoppable British taste for curry.

The company, from its giant headquarters in Wigan opened by Cherie Blair in 2002, now employs 600 people. Its estimated turnover - it operates in Europe and North America - exceeds £50m a year. Under Tory plans, however, lacking basic skills and sufficient capital, the Pathaks would most likely have been turned away.

Gulam Noon, 60, businessman

After the death of his father, 17-year-old Gulam Noon began looking after the family's small sweet shop in Bombay. But he was not making enough money to support himself and his mother and brothers and sisters.

Having heard there could be a market for Indian food in Britain, he decided to leave the subcontinent in 1970. But under Tory rules, Mr Noon would almost certainly not have qualified for residency, with no obvious skills when he arrived in the UK.

Pitching up in London with "hardly any money", he opened a confectionery shop in Southall. Business took off, and in 1989 he began Noon Foods, supplying packaged Indian food to airlines. He now employs 1,100 people, and his business empire, which stretches to 40 sweet shops and offers a range of over 300 chilled food products, is worth more than £90m.

Mike Fuller, 45, Chief Constable of Kent police

The first black officer to lead a British police force was always going to be a milestone. Mike Fuller's parents came to Britain in the 1950s. They met in London. His father, Lloyd, was an unskilled labourer from a farm in eastern Jamaica, eventually finding work as a press operator. The couple, who never married, had their son Mike in 1959 while living in South London.

They separated, and he grew up in a children's home in Crawley, West Sussex. Under the stricter conditions, Mr Fuller's parents would not have been allowed in as his father appears to have had no in-demand skills.

Amir Khan, 17: Olympic boxing silver medallist

The sight of Khan's exuberant Union Jack-waving supporters - both Asian and white - was one of the defining images of the last Olympics.

His father, Shajaad Khan, came to Britain with Pakistani friends in the mid-1970s, eventually settling in Bolton, Greater Manchester.

Born into a family of small- time traders in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Shajaad eventually took a job as a scrap metal dealer in Bolton. Many of his family remain in eastern Pakistan.

Amir began his career as a part-time mechanic, before joining the sports development programme at Bolton College. He won gold at the Junior Olympics in 2003 and a silver in Athens. Britain's gold medal tally in Athens could well have been lower under the Tories. Mr Khan's father appears to have had no skills that would have qualified under the proposed scheme.

Kelly Holmes, 34, double Olympic gold medalist

It is a similar scenario for the former Army fitness instructor whose double gold medal in Athens was one of the highlights of 2004. Her year culminated in her being awarded BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

But it could have been very different. Her father, Derrick Holmes, came to Britain in the mid-1960s, finding work as a car mechanic. He married an English woman Pam Norman, but two years after Kelly's birth in 1970 the marriage broke down. Ms Holmes' father also appears to have few crucial skills, thus disqualifying him too.