In Spite of All Temptations to Belong to Other Nations
From the St. Crispin Day Speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V—“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”—to Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy to the paintings of Turner, English art and literature are rife with patriotic fervor. And after all, why not? The United Kingdom stands today as both one of the premier nations and immigration destinations in the world.
One of the well-known expressions of British pride, however, come from Gilbert and Sullivan, HMS Pinafore and its most famous song, “For He is An Englishman.”
And as the song says,
“But in spite of all temptations,
To belong to other nations,
He remains an Englishman!”
The post-WWII immigration boom has done wonders for Britain, taking the best of that aforementioned tradition and nation and giving it new life by way of blending it with other cultural traditions. The UK has benefited greatly from immigration, but the question remains—which nationalities and groups are immigrating the most to the Sceptered Isle, and what might that mean for immigrants and UK nationals alike?
Here’s a look at the Top 10 nationalities who are making the trek to the UK.
Before we get to the list proper, here’s a quick mention about Canadian immigration to the UK. Canada ranks in the Top 20 when it comes to UK immigration, with as many as 90K having immigrated to the UK as of 2012. Immigration between Commonwealth countries isn’t too uncommon, so it’s not surprising to see Canadians making the trip back. What is interesting are the reasons this occurs. There’s a large contingent of Canadians with a proud English or Scottish ancestry, making a trip back to the “homeland” a bit more alluring. Whereas most of the other nations on this list add a new cultural perspective to the UK, many Canadians immigrate to the United Kingdom for the opposite reason—to get back in touch with the kind of “pure British-ness” Shakespeare, Waugh, Turner, Gilbert and Sullivan would all recognize.
The Republic of Ireland
The Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom have had an “interesting” history, to say the least. From numerous British invasions to the little matter of Oliver Cromwell inflicting himself upon the Irish people to the Potato Famine, IRA terrorist attacks against British citizens, and much more, there’s a long history of animosity between these two nations.
Thankfully, recent years have seen the beginning of a healing process, with immigration being just one sign of that process. In 2001, more half a million Irish immigrants lived within the UK’s borders, with a good deal of those immigrants living in Northern Ireland, which is a part of the United Kingdom, for readers unfamiliar with the UK’s national boundaries. Liverpool, Cardiff, and of course, the great multicultural melting pot London all have significant Irish populations, and have been shaped in part by their Irish immigrants.
That being said, Irish immigration has been on the downswing, as the number of Irish immigrants living in the UK currently rests closer to 400K. One big reason for that may be a comparative increase of stability on the island of Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland standing in 2013 as one of the most developed nations in the world, according to the United Nations Human Development Index. This may be one reason for the decline in the UK’s Irish population, but the influence of the Irish on Britain cannot be overstated, and Irish immigrants look to remain a key part of the UK community for a long time.
The British colonization of India is another long, long story, and one which has led directly to both India and its border nation, Pakistan, making this list. Suffice it to say that after increasing pressure at home, the toll of two World Wars, and the efforts of some remarkable revolutionaries on the Indian subcontinent—including a little someone named Gandhi whom you may have heard of—India achieved independence from Britain, albeit at a price. The Partition of India is a story which can and has filled entire volumes, and has led to both the creation of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, as well as near-ceaseless sectarian violence on the subcontinent since the formation of these nations, as the Partition left some Muslims cut off and isolated in majority-Hindu India, and many Hindu Indians likewise stranded and vulnerable to attacks in majority-Muslim Pakistan.
Despite all of this, India has retained close economic ties with the UK, as the two nations have worked to heal their formal diplomatic and cultural relationships over the decades, and both this healing and the flourishing of that economic relationship may be seen as responsible for the spike in Indian immigration to Britain over the decades. Indians have been coming to Britain for some time, but this number has increased dramatically in the last decade-plus, from 460K+ in 2001 to 720K+ in 2012.
How and why India and Pakistan became the nations they are and developed the tenuous relationship they struggle with today is, once more, a long story which not only directly involves the history of the British in the reason, but likewise explains why there are so many Pakistanis immigrating to the United Kingdom. Partition, as stated above, was a long, difficult, bloody and tragic process, and, as with India, it’s left Pakistan in a state where it now—like it or not—has economic and social ties to Britain.
One reason for the surge in Pakistani immigration to the UK may be the ongoing violence in the region. From its tensions with India to infighting amongst different Islamic groups—see: Al-Qaeda—to US activity in the region via drones,
Das ist gut, ja? Germans have a long history of immigrating to the UK—and by long, we mean way back to the Angles and the Saxons making the trip across the North Sea. As many as 300K Germans live in the UK, with some of the largest German communities residing in Richmond and West London. Germans have had a big influence on British art and culture, from Wagner’s operas featuring in T.S. Eliot’s poetry to the Schlegel and Brangwen sisters from E.M. Forster’s Howards End and D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow and Women in Love, respectively.
The United States of America
Seems counterintuitive? It shouldn’t.
Sure, America might have gotten its start as Britain’s rebellious offspring, but as many as 217,000 residents of the UK, as of 2012, are “Prodigal sons” of sorts.
Americans have a long history of immigrating back to their political progenitor and closest ally. Henry James made a career out of chronicling that transatlantic relationship in everything from Portrait of a Lady to Daisy Miller. T.S. Eliot likewise made the trip—born in St. Louis, went to school in Harvard and Oxford, and stayed for much of his productive poetic life in England, eventually becoming a British citizen. (We’d mention Madonna, but 1. She didn’t actually immigrate there, and 2. Let’s not ruin the Special Relationship, hm?)
In any case, more and more Americans are falling in love with the Sceptered Isle than ever before. We saw a cultural “British Invasion” of sorts in the 1960s, and with Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, and with so many of young Americans’ favorite film, literary and television works coming from the other side of the Pond, one might say we’re in the midst of another one. What’s more, the world is more multicultural and interconnected than ever, meaning that this younger generation now coming of age has been raised with an intense interest in other cultures—
And seeing as how Americans and Brits share a common language—at least in theory, as anyone who’s ever looked for an “apartment” rather than a “flat,” an “elevator” instead of a “lift,” or otherwise buggered British English will tell you—the British Isles are a common place to begin that international experience.
Finally, there’s the fact that the pound is stronger than the dollar, and there are those out there that see more immediate economic opportunity in the UK.
The third country on this list that’s here as a result of the British presence on the Indian subcontinent, Bangladeshis have been immigrating to the UK in droves.
Tower Hamlets has a major Bangladeshi population, as do Birmingham and Bradford. The UK has tens of thousands of young Bangladeshi immigrants, meaning that this is one of the populations which is likely to increase over time—and, indeed, it has been doing just that, from a mere 6K in 1961 to nearly 450K as of today.
Another former British colony, another current wellspring of immigrants. Former boxing champ Lennox Lewis and acclaimed author Zadie Smith are both of Jamaican descent, as are 800K British citizens, of whom 145K are recent Jamaican immigrants. The overwhelming majority of Jamaicans in the UK have settled in the various areas in and around London, and the UK on the whole represents one of the largest communities of expatriate Jamaicans in the world.
South Africa and Kenya
Both nations have ties to Britain as a result of its colonial days. There are roughly 141-209K South Africans and 129-142K Kenyans living in the United Kingdom, again, largely in urban areas. Both of these nations, along with Pakistan, are some of the nations responsible for the large number of Islamic immigrants making their way to Britain right now.
Rounding out this Top 10 list, we have a nation which was formed from, among other things, British emigration, Australia. Roughly 110K Australians live in the UK. Again, immigration from the Commonwealth isn’t uncommon, and Aussies are no exception. While the largest number if Australian expatriates live in the UK, that number’s declined sharply since the recession in the late 2000s.
Riley Haas has been a leading expert since 2011 on immigration matters, with hundreds of publications online. Published author of three books about political philosophy, the Beatles and the Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively. BA from Bishop’s University, MA from McMaster University. You follow Riley on Substack https://rileyhaas.substack.com.