Immigration to Britain

Mauritius Times 60 Years Ago – 3rd Year – No 92 – Friday 11th May 1956

There is scope in the U.K. for more immigrants from the colonies — as long as the immigrants are not excessively choosy about the work they expect to do – By Peter Ibbotson

The eyes of many Mauritians are turning to England as a possible place of employment. Many West Indians have come from Jamaica to the U.K. in the past three years, and London Transport has organised the recruitment of Barbadian workers to its service. It is only natural, therefore, that Mauritians should think of following suit. It is only natural, too, that they should be inclined favourably to consider the possibility of integration, Malta-fashion, into the U.K. — as Hon Beejadhur has indeed suggested.

What problems face the immigrant when he arrives in the U.K. from some small far-off colony? After his party had won the general election in Jamaica last year, Norman Manley sent a two-man fact-finding mission to England to study the problems facing the coloured immigrant; the report has been published by the Fabian Colonial Bureau. Many of the findings would apply to Mauritians seeking work in England.

The difficulties are threefold: those faced by British workers; those faced by any stranger to a given locality; and those arising from differences.

Housing is the biggest difficulty. All the industrial towns have long waiting lists for council houses. Many colonial immigrants must therefore go into logdings where anything from 25 shs to £2 (say 17 to 26 rupees) a week is the standard charge for a single person sharing a room with at least one other person. Many rooming houses which take in numbers of workers forbid individual cooking facilities in the rooms, and insist on all cooking being done in the communal kitchen. (The rooms are furnished, and kitchen utensils are supplied). This leads to friction, of course; and characteristic cooking is not liked on account of its, perhaps, distinctive smell.

Hostel facilities are available, often, provided by religious bodies such as the Church Army and Toc H; but hostels are rather unpopular on account of the restrictions and regulations. Some degree of discrimination on account of colour is practised; the Kensington Post of 22 Aug 1955 carried 260 advertisements offering accommodation of which 46 specifically barred coloured people. Bigger difficulties face married men than single men.

Big difficulties surround buying a house, and many immigrants are lost among the maze of housing legislation that affects the availability of houses.

The type of work undertaken by immigrants varies. Men are found in skilled work such as moulders, garage hands, die-casters, bookbinders, painters, dairy workers and motor mechanics; and as bus conductors and railway porters. Women have found work as conductresses and cleaners, as machine operators and as trainee machinists.

Yet many immigrants cannot find jobs that come up to their expectations. If however an immigrant arrives not expecting too much, he can find work that will provide him with a living wage; though his net take-home pay will be a lot less than he had probably been led to expect in Jamaica before he left home. Deductions are made from pay for income tax, national insurance, trade union subscriptions (often), factory welfare fund, etc.

By and large the immigrants are found in the jobs that British workers will not fill; the least rewarding and satisfying jobs, in other words. However, an immigrant can get all the help and advice he needs from the Labour Exchanges which have a nation-wide network at a prospective worker’s disposal. Immigrants who are mobile and who don’t mind whether they work in Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester, the North or South or East or West, can be fitted into work more easily than those who insist on a job in a specified locality.

Expectations outstrip realities, says the report, so far as income is concerned. The wages received may be higher than at home, but the expenses are very high, and there will be little left after paying the necessary weekly outgoings. A quarter of all immigrants from the West Indies are helped with their passages by friends and relatives who expect to be repaid out of savings, many a man comes over expecting to be able to save up enough to pay his wife’s and family’s passage to the U.K. in a short space of time. In this he, as well as they, will often be sadly let down.

What is needed is for the immigrant to adjust himself to the different tempo of life, to the different standard of life and living. Those who can make the adjustment, settle down into contented members of society. Those who do not make adjustment get a bad name for the vast majority of good, industrious, hard-working citizens. Migrants are responding positively to their opportunities. Some, especially the pioneer immigrants, have been here long enough to own houses and be accepted members of the local society.

There is scope in the U.K. for more immigrants from the colonies — as long as the immigrants are not excessively choosy about the work they expect to do. The Government of Mauritius has the responsibility of seeing that the people of Mauritius have work — and I suggest that the Government should organise the emigration of workers from Mauritius to Great Britain. There is room for such workers now — and the mechanical ability of the Mauritian would be useful when he arrives in the U.K.

The population commission (Mauritius) recommended some Government-sponsored emigration scheme — the Colonial Office has said that the Government of Mauritius is studying the commission’s report. Before the opportunity is lost, and before the West Indian immigrants occupy all the jobs that are available for colonial workers, the Mauritius Government should act. Madagascar is out of the question; so are East Africa and North Borneo, South Africa and Brazil. But a good number of Mauritians could find useful work in Britain — and the Government can help them.

There is no need to make grants outright — the Government need only advance passage money against the security of a job which a Government official over here would find and have all ready for each assisted immigrant; I do not envisage any assistance for people coming over on the off chance of picking up a job — the scheme should be on an organised basis right from the start. It could benefit both Britain and Mauritius; the move is up to the Mauritius Government — which, in Mauritius’ present constitutional position, means up to the Central Administration. And whatever other excuse is brought forward for the non-adoption of such a scheme, let not the Central Administration plead financial stringency. There have been a whole series of bumper sugar crops; and so far this year, the signs are that the 1956 crop will be better than ever.

Where there is a will there is a way — that is a proverb which in one form or another exists in many languages. It should be the guiding motto of the Mauritius Government in this matter of assisted emigration to the United Kingdom.


*  Published in print edition on 22 December 2017

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