Why are so many of us leaving Britain? Is it the crap weather? The lack of affordable housing? The far-reaching ramifications of colonialism smoothing our way as we migrate around the world? A combination of the above? Whatever the reason, according to a new report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Britain has a greater proportion of its citizens living overseas than any other European country.
As a recent British economic immigrant to the Netherlands, it doesn’t surprise me that the issue of British-born immigrants is widely ignored by anti-immigration factions in the UK. It’s a highly inconvenient truth that 3.97 million British citizens were living abroad in 2010 - and since then their numbers have grown to the point that the House of Lords are currently debating whether overseas Brits should be able to vote in the EU referendum.We are many and mighty, with enough voting clout to swing a decision. No wonder Ukip are reluctant to draw attention to us.
Madeleine Sumption, the director of the University of Oxford Migration Observatory, has been quoted in The Times saying: “We normally think of the UK mainly as a destination for migrants, but it also has a long history of emigration... The OECD data suggest that Brits are more mobile than many other countries with similar levels of development, like Germany, France or the United States.”
Among the British people moving abroad are 1.5 million are people with graduate level education, and they are moving in response to Britain’s lack of economic opportunities - so basically the same economic profile as most of the immigrants currently moving to Britain. Despite the similarities it’s clear that for many anti-immigration advocates there is one rule for Britain and another rule for everyone else: we can go there but they can’t come here. This worldview benefits both British people moving abroad and British people back home who want to scapegoat immigrants for all of Britain’s social problems.
It’s a view that’s increasingly hard to defend when faced with the OCED’s data. The report is also an untapped resource for campaigners looking to battle extremist groups like Ukip and Britain First. In an ideal (and way more fun) world, every time your local racist started referring to that pesky problem of immigrants “stealing our jobs”, every British immigrant would appear, hovering 6 feet in the air and singing a heavenly chorus of: “Britain has more immigrants living abroad than India, China, Bangladesh, Poland and Hun-gar-reeeee!”
But until we get the harmonies sorted, let’s just concentrate on making sure that all anti-immigration rhetoric also includes British immigrants.
If British people and media outlets are going to campaign against high numbers of immigrants coming to Britain, they should be forced to consider what the reverse of those policies will be. If we are right to worry about immigrants stealing British jobs, should we prevent our own citizens from moving abroad? If Theresa May is going to place restrictions on international students, then should we recall all the British students currently studying overseas?
The OECD report shows that there are enough British immigrants living abroad for this to be more than just a thought exercise; it’s a duty of care we owe the international community. How can we condemn immigrants from other countries when our own citizens are roaming around the world, working hard, paying taxes, integrating into their new communities, doing all those things that Ukip are apparently so worried about other people doing? It just makes no sense. Perhaps, after all the rhetoric, it’s time to face the surprising immigration facts.