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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 September 2005, 21:49 GMT 22:49 UK
Opinion: Super-diversity revealed
Born Abroad
By Professor Steven Vertovec
University of Oxford

Languages offered on the Lambeth Council website, London
How is immigration changing the face of modern Britain? One of the country's leading experts on migration explains what the BBC's Born Abroad project, published this month, reveals about the country - and what it means for integration.

Diversity in the UK is not what it used to be.

This is clear from the BBC's Born Abroad project and the New Immigrant Communities study conducted by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) that the maps and figures draw on.

The maps and data published earlier this month on the BBC News website point to the growth, locations and economic profiles of a wide variety of groups: a much wider variety, in fact, than most policy-makers and members of the general public had ever realized.

To ensure the smooth integration of immigrants, we need revitalised multicultural policies, reflecting the new patterns of super-diversity within Britain
Prof Steven Vertovec
The study, based on Census data, focuses on where people were born to chart the development of immigration within Great Britain.

For decades British multicultural policies have mainly centred on fewer communities, mainly Asian and African-Caribbean - in the eyes of policymakers, it was these people who generally comprised Britain's immigrants.

But the new data shows how, compared with these patterns from the 1950s-1970s, immigration to Britain between 1991-2001 involved people from a wide range of countries beyond the New Commonwealth nations that traditionally provided the main sources for migration to the UK.

We can now see the vastly more complicated picture of current immigrant diversity - a 'super-diversity', in fact. It is clearly time to re-think the nature of multiculturalism in the UK as both a condition and set of policies that address that condition.

Diverse people, diverse reasons

While highlighting key patterns of diversity, country of birth data alone is rather one-dimensional.

Maps immigration to Britain
Where people come from
Where they live
How well they do

But if we use Census data or other research on ethnicity, religion and language, we can learn a lot more about the many dimensions of this super-diversity.

And it is these criteria that play key roles in determining how immigrants identify and organise themselves - as well as how they interact with people already living here.

We must realise, however, that today's super-diversity is not just about more countries of origin, ethnic identities, languages and religions.

There are yet additional immigrant characteristics that affect everyday social interactions and the processes of integration.

For instance, compared with earlier waves, recent migrants have come for a greater variety of reasons and through a wider set of channels.

An immigrant's channel of migration and subsequent legal status can be crucial because these directly impact on their ability to work, what kind of housing they may find and what public services they use.

These channels and legal categories have themselves multiplied and become more complex over the past ten years.

Britain's most diverse neighbourhood
On the corner, an Irish pub marks the start of Ealing Road, where mock Tudor and Georgian terraces rub shoulders with halal butchers and Bollywood video shops ... within 100 yards there is a Mosque, a Methodist church, a Baptist chapel and a Gospel centre

Some 60% of new migrants who have been in the UK more than five years (the period of eligibility) have become citizens.

Many other recent arrivals are EU nationals who do not need a visa or work permit - including a sizeable influx over the past year since ten new countries have become members of the EU.

Still other recent migrants are work permit holders (including large numbers from the USA and India) or people on special worker schemes in agriculture (from 48 countries) or hotels and restaurants (from 40 countries).

Britain has welcomed highly skilled migrants and entrepreneurs in computing, finance and business from many countries alongside working holidaymakers from more than 30 countries (especially 'Old Commonwealth' ones such as Australia and New Zealand).

There are also special visa holders such as au pairs (mainly from eastern Europe) and students from all over the world, notably the EU and China.

Spouses and family members comprise a category that more than doubled between 1993-2003.

Until recently asylum-seekers and refugees represented one of the largest immigrant categories, including Sri Lankan Tamils, Serbians and Somalis in the late 1990s and Zimbabweans, Iraqis and Afghanis in the early 2000s.

Illegal immigrants

Finally there are 'undocumented' people from all over the world, people generally described in the media as 'illegal immigrants'.

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We know that they work in a range of sectors from professional to manual work, most of whom have probably overstayed their originally legal entry visas to Britain.

Legal status, patterns of immigrant integration and social interaction are also importantly related to people's plans for how long they intend to stay.

Many only plan to work for a short time and then return home, others to stay a bit longer. Others wish to settle permanently.

And then there are many other social traits that differentiate migrant groups too - gender and family status are crucial variables in determining social and economic livelihood

For example, most Slovakians, Filipinos and Thais in the UK are women (70-80%), while most Algerians, Kosovars and Afghans are men (60-70%).

Some groups are more prone to consist of young families, others of single people.

The Born Abroad project has done a great service in revealing characteristics of the new migration.

But in order to effectively deliver services to, and ensure the smooth integration of immigrants we need revitalised multicultural policies, reflecting the new patterns of super-diversity.

Prof. Steven Vertovec is a social anthropologist and Director of the Economic and Social Research Council's Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford. See internet links.

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