How welcome are Africans in the UK?

x The Oboh family believes there are many opportunities in the UK

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A Nigerian nurse who has built a successful career in the UK, 57-year-old Sophie Oboh, has mixed views about the tighter immigration laws that the government is implementing.

Ms Oboh says she understands the reason for the crackdown but she is also concerned that it may go too far, preventing other Nigerian nurses from moving to the UK.

"If they are given the opportunity tomorrow, they will come," Mrs Oboh told the BBC.

Start Quote

Immigration is and has been one of the top five political issues in each election in the UK since 2002”

End Quote Kahiye Alim Lawyer

"Nigeria is a very big nation. There are qualified nurses who don't have jobs there," she adds, pointing out that there is no risk of her home country experiencing a "brain drain".

When Mrs Oboh first came to the UK in 1988, it was "simple".

"My husband was here as a student. I was allowed to come and join him. Today, it's very difficult to come to Britain."

'Go home'

Now, UK law has split families - a point that South Africa-based immigration lawyer Johannes Breytenbach makes.

He notes that Britons must now earn a minimum of $30,000 (£18,600) a year to bring over a spouse who is a non-European Union (EU) citizen. He says this would disadvantage a British stay-at-home mother who would like to be joined by her spouse, who could be a successful businessman.

"This has been the worst change in law in relation to the impact it has on our clients who are British citizens," he says.

Dancers at a carnival in London (28 August 2006) Diversity is celebrated at London's annual Notting Hill Carnival

London-based human rights and immigration lawyer Kahiye Alim agrees, saying that unless you are well off, "you can't fall in love with a foreigner".

Mr Alim notes that the High Court has rejected the new financial rule as "onerous", ruling that they violate respect for family life under the European Human Rights Convention. However, the government has appealed against the judgement and the case is due to be heard next March.

'Hostile reception'

I first came to the UK in 2001 on a student visa to study Chinese and French at Leeds. It was quite hard to get my visa. The main challenge was getting all the paperwork the authorities needed. And because the post from the UK takes a while to arrive in Malawi, it took some time for me to get my university correspondence.

But you knew where you stood. Now, the system seems to be aimed more at catching you out than facilitating a fair process. The rules keep changing - it's hard to keep up. The situation seems a lot more precarious, especially as you could lose your visa through no fault of your own, like what happened to London Met students when the university lost its licence to sponsor non-EU students last year.

After I completed my studies, I got an internship and a job in London. But I had to go back home first, and re-enter under a different visa. I did not mind because it gave me a chance to visit my family.

I presently work for a charity in London focusing on religious freedom. This is my home now, but I think the UK is slightly less welcoming than when I came - not only from an official standpoint point but also from people.

I get asked whether I am Somali or Eritrean and if you come from that part of Africa, you get a slightly more hostile reception.

"Immigration is and has been one of the top five political issues in each election in the UK since 2002. It is rising on the agenda across Europe and there is a correlation in this rise following the financial crisis," Mr Alim says.

The UK Home Office caused a major outcry in July when its vans drove through racially diverse boroughs in London, displaying a picture of handcuffs with the message: "In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest."

'Sham marriages'

The government abandoned the scheme after criticism from across the political spectrum, including from the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) - which appeals to voters opposed to immigration. Ukip described the message as being reminiscent of a fascist dictatorship.

The government has now proposed even tougher legislation - including requiring landlords to check the legal status of tenants before renting property; making temporary migrants pay £200 ($324) a year towards the cost of the National Health Service; and getting registrars to inform the Home Office of planned weddings between UK citizens and those from outside Europe, in an attempt to cut down on "sham marriages".

Defending government policy, a Home Office spokesperson said: "Immigration reform is working; we have tightened immigration routes where abuse was rife, while still encouraging the brightest and the best to come to the UK".

But for rights campaigner Lee Jasper of the Movement Against Xenophobia group, the "landlords' provisions in the bill are scandalous and herald a return to the days of the colour bar, where Caribbean and Irish immigrants in the 1960s were confronted with the signs: No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish".

Mr Alim says the government's latest crackdown on immigration is tied to the fact that Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to reduce net migration from the "hundreds of thousands" to the "tens of thousands" by the next election in 2015.

"It's a numbers game. They can't reduce migration from European Union countries because they are part of the EU, so they've picked on family migrants and students [from other countries]," he says.

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In this year's local elections, Mr Cameron's Conservative party shed support to Ukip, which is campaigning for the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

"Cameron is trying to get voters to come back and the bill is the bait," Mr Alim says.

As part of its crackdown, the Conservatives proposed that visitors from "high-risk" countries, including Nigeria and India, put up a $4,600 (£3,000) "security bond" as a condition for obtaining a tourist visa.

However, it was forced to drop the idea following opposition from its coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats.

The new measures seem to be having some effect, judging by the number of Nigerians who have registered for a National Insurance (NI) number, usually given to legal migrants.

'Adapting to the British way'

Carlos Vargas-Silva, a senior researcher at the UK-based Oxford University's Centre on Migration Policy and Studies (COMPAS), says the number has fallen by 24% - from 10,510 in the 12 months leading up to April 2012 to 13,760 in the following year.


The 2011 census put the number of African-born residents in England and Wales at 1.3 million, compared with 809,000 in 2001 - an increase of 62%.

Mr Vargas-Silva says the main aim of the latest parliamentary bill is to deal with existing migrants, rather than decreasing immigration.

A British police officer stands near a wall after anti-Polish graffiti was sprayed on it in an area popular with Polish people on May 15, 2006 in west London, England. Eastern Europeans are the latest group to face a backlash

"One component is directed at undocumented migrants - these by definition are from non-EU countries, including African countries - and tries to make their stay in the UK more difficult. This should not affect immigration of skilled workers from African countries," he says.

The census shows that the former British colonies of Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe are the African countries which account for most migration to England and Wales.

Between 2001-2011, the numbers of Nigerians and Zimbabweans have both risen by more than 100%.

African-born residents in England & Wales: 2001-2011









South Africa












Source: England & Wales Census 2001 and 2011, ONS





Employable Nigerians

99,368 - 76.4%

13,213 - 10.2%

17,542 - 13.5%

Employable South Africans

128,603 - 91.9%

6,079 - 4.3%

5,299 - 3.8%

Source: England & Wales Census 2011, ONS

Mr Vargas-Silva says official statistics show that South Africans in the UK are financially better off than other African communities.

"South Africans are a very established community here and very different in economic terms. Their income is much higher," he says.

Start Quote

A bright doctor from Nigeria or Namibia finds it far harder to get in than a rapist and a murderer [from Eastern Europe]”

End Quote Tom Bursnall UKIP member

Mr Breytenbach says South Africans' "ambition" to relocate to the UK is as strong as ever, but they are finding it increasingly difficult.

"Immigration rules are certainly tougher which has led to many very highly skilled individuals who would like to go to the UK and who no doubt would have contributed to the United Kingdom economy now no longer being able to do so," he adds.

But the government insists its policies will continue to attract "global talent" to the UK.

"The UK is open for business - we are building an immigration system that works in the national interest and supports growth," the Home Office spokesperson said.

For Ukip member Tom Bursnall, the government's main focus should now be on blocking immigration from Eastern Europe.

"At the moment, the system disadvantages our Commonwealth brothers. A bright doctor from Nigeria or Namibia finds it far harder to get in than a rapist and a murderer [from Eastern Europe]," he says.

Mrs Oboh - the Nigerian nurse - works and lives in Slough, about 30km (20 miles) west of London.

No 'milk and honey'

I am married to a British woman and we have two lovely children - two years old and four years old. I came to the UK in 2004 because I thought it will be the best opportunity for me to escape the harsh economic reality in Nigeria then.

But when you set foot here, the reality hits you that this is not a land flowing with milk and honey. I have worked in a warehouse sorting post, at a construction site and as a parking attendant.

It's not been all rosy, but you do not want to chicken out and go back home. That is how you prove you are a man.

At the end of the day, it is worth moving out of Nigeria. It is very organised here. Things work the way they should. People abide by the rules. You can't jump queues. You can't impose on others.

The town has always had a large population of immigrants, with Eastern Europeans the latest group to settle there following their integration into the EU in the post-Cold War era.

"They are willing to do any job - like cleaning and working in factories," Mrs Oboh says.

Mrs Oboh has certainly succeeded in the UK, working her way up from doing ward duty to co-ordinating a team of nurses at a state-run clinic for mental health patients.

"I've always been passionate about mental health illness. Back home, there is a lack of awareness about it," she says.

Mrs Oboh says she has never experienced racism while working in the UK - and has "adapted to the British way of nursing".

That means speaking more softly, being less abrupt and making eye contact, she says.

"To look away from a patient is rude."

Although she describes Nigeria as home, Mrs Oboh, who has four children - "they correct my English", she quips - also sees herself as "very British".

"I love this country. The light [electricity] is constant, the water is 24 hours, the roads are smooth. It's organised," she says.

"The opportunities are there. If you don't make it here, you're lazy."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    Some of the comments here a bit sad. Most Europeans who go to various African countries for work don't integrate much either - they form little expat communities and rarely learn the local customs or language; so why the double standard? Live and let live - appreciate the diversity!

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    Africans have been well accepted but eneough is enough, we need to close the borders and deal with our problems, we need to control population, sort out crime, unemployment, the nhs and a wrath of other critical issues we have, once these have all been sorted we should then open the borders again but only to those deemed needed and useful to the growth of the country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    Using logic, it makes sense not to be too welcoming. We are a nation that alrerady can't feed itself, the more people we pile onto this island the more dependant we become on other nations for food.

    With global food shortages in the offing we are in a weak position.

    The less welcoming we are the less immigrants we will get.

  • Comment number 166.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    Ok fine. Then just close your UK gates. I hate being in a place where I am clearly unwanted & honestly urge my african brothers to leave. I was in the UK for 7 years... got the same unwelcome treatment ... comments like "go home', ' we are full' and I Just left. Iam currently back in africa and I am enjoying it. The world is alot larger than UN-Great Britain!!!


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