South Asians in Britain

Coming home to mother? Bhikhu Parekh on the impact the subcontinent’s peoples have had (and continue to have) in Britain itself.

Although South Asians had been coming to Britain during the colonial period as students, cricketers, visitors, pedlars, housemaids, governesses, entertainers and political supplicants, and some had even settled here, their number was extremely small. The picture changed radically after the Second World War when Britain, after exhausting European sources, turned to South Asia and the West Indies to recruit labour it desperately needed to regenerate its economy. Even as late as 1956 it had 174,000 more unfilled vacancies than unemployed workers. Thousands of semi-skilled and unskilled South Asians came to work in the textile and steel industries, at first alone and later joined by their wives and children. They were followed by skilled workers and professionals, especially the doctors whose services were badly needed to run the National Health Service. As their numbers increased, pressure for immigration control mounted, leading at first to various kinds of restrictions and to a virtual halt of primary migration in 1971.

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