What do you think?

Immigration into Britain has been, and still is, a sensitive political issue, and you will need to discuss it with care and tact.

Question

How has immigration changed over the course of history?

Immigration was much lower hundreds of years ago. This could have been due to stricter laws and the difficulty of travelling from one country to another. As technology has improved, the world has become smaller. Education and the learning of foreign languages has also made it easier to emigrate and fit into a new country. Tolerance has also improved. People of different races and religions are generally more accepted now than in the past, even though this is still not always the case.

Question

What are the benefits of immigration?

Immigration has brought a variety of new cultures to the United Kingdom and helped people learn about each other and become more tolerant and understanding. The United Kingdom has one of the highest rates of interracial marriage in the world. In fact, according to the Office of National Statistics in 2014, mixed race people are the fastest growing ethnic minority group in the UK.

Question

What are the problems it can cause?

Immigration can breed suspicion and distrust. When people are faced with a group of people they are not used to and do not understand, they sometimes react in a negative way. This is particularly the case amongst poorer people who feel that the newcomers (or immigrants) are probably to blame for their poverty because they are taking the jobs and resources that would otherwise be used by them. This can lead to racist attitudes and even violence, as seen in the evidence above.

Question

Have the benefits/problems remained the same over time?

Over time, suspicion has always remained when a new group arrives in the country. However, the problems have changed. In the past, there were relatively few immigrants, whereas now immigration and different cultures are a lot more widespread.

Question

What is the significance and impact of immigration to the UK throughout history?

Immigration has had significant economic and social impact in Britain. Irish immigrants helped build thousands of miles worth of railroads and canals in the 19th century. Immigrants from the West Indian colonies helped fill job shortages after World War Two. Immigrants from Pakistan and India helped plug employment gaps in the textile mills in Yorkshire and Lancashire. More recently, immigrants have benefited a range of industries from seasonal agricultural work on UK farms, to skilled work in the NHS and technology sector.

Immigration has always had the potential to create tension, as has been seen from the Middle Ages onwards. New arrivals are sometimes seen as a threat. A typical fear has always been what impact immigration might have on employment, infrastructure and cultural interaction. Recent discussions have centred upon pressures on employment, housing and local services.

Where next?

You may wish to compare how Britain has reacted to movement and settlement in the Medieval Islamic world, and in the Roman Empire.

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