Starmer’s Labour govt: hope and challenges for Pakistani Britons

  • Afshan Subohi
  • Jul 10, 2024

Pakistani Britons do not expect their electoral support for the Labour Party and Prime Minister Keir Starmer to immediately result in exclusive tangible benefits for themselves, their community, or those in Pakistan aspiring to migrate to or study in the UK. However, the Labour government’s decision to discard the previous Conservative government’s policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda in its first week in office has strengthened the perception of a relatively more flexible stance on immigration, despite the ruling party’s formal position on limiting it.

In June this year, less than a month before the UK elections, PM Starmer presented a plan to limit net migration to a fraction of the current level, targeting 350,000 annually within five years. This plan includes tightening immigration policies and ensuring their effective implementation. He pledged to combat the abuse of the migration system by businesses that exploit workers by undercutting working conditions. Additionally, he promised to initiate training programmes to bridge ‘skill gaps’ in sectors like health and construction that have been reliant on migration. Starmer also warned that employers and agencies illegally hiring overseas workers would face bans.

PM Starmer, who formed a government last week after a landslide Labour Party victory in the elections, has inherited a weak economy with sluggish growth, creaking public services, eroding personal finances due to record-high inflation, a housing shortage, and low investment rates. In such a challenging environment, the benefits of immigration tend to be overshadowed by prevalent public sentiments against it.

“It is easy for Westerners to blame those they see as ‘others’ for their troubles, whether it be jobs, housing, or public service delivery. Populist leaders have amplified these ideas to a point where no serious political party in the West can risk defending immigrants or adopting a liberal stance on this issue,” explained a former Pakistani bureaucrat who moved to the UK 16 years ago, in a private conversation. He did not expect a turnaround in immigration policy under the Labour Party but hoped for more humane treatment of those unintentionally caught in difficult situations.

Like many other developed countries, including the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the UK has reviewed and implemented tougher, more stringent immigration rules to limit the inflow of immigrants. The UK government announced changes to the immigration system that took effect early this year. In the skilled worker visa category, the largest immigration route in the UK, the minimum salary threshold has risen to 38,700 pounds or the going rate for the role, whichever is higher. Social care workers can no longer bring dependents on their visas. The list of jobs eligible for sponsorship with a reduced salary requirement has been shortened, and the minimum income to sponsor a spouse visa has almost doubled, increasing from 18,600 pounds to 29,000 pounds.

Pakistanis, identified by UK authorities as the fourth largest group after Indians, Nigerians, and Chinese, are expected to bear the brunt of these changes. According to official statistics, in 2023, of the total 1,218,000 migrants arriving in the UK, 83,000 were from Pakistan. Unofficial projections estimate that at least 10,000 to 15,000 of these were students.

Asif, a second-generation Pakistani Briton and a tech professional working for a start-up, considers the Labour Party’s pre-election stance on immigration more of a political gimmick. He believes it clashes with the party’s fundamental orientation. His advice for new Pakistani entrants intending to make the UK their new home is to be more mindful of changes in the immigration system. “With the right legal support, I don’t see why they wouldn’t be able to achieve their aspirations,” he added.

Pakistanis who wish to settle in Britain should seek job offers in sectors with skill shortages. Exceptionally talented individuals in fields such as academia, research, arts, and digital technology can apply for the ‘Global Talent Visa’. Pakistani students completing degrees in the UK can stay for two to three years to find work, and those working for multinational companies can secure ‘Intra-Company Transfer Visas’ by getting posted to a UK branch office. Ansari, an immigration lawyer, provided this briefing during a conversation on the subject.

A well-placed source in the diplomatic community, who wished to remain anonymous, criticised the underestimation of challenges faced by Pakistanis hoping to settle in the UK. “While the doors are not completely shut for intending immigrants, the declared policy of discouragement will likely affect Pakistanis more than others for a variety of reasons. It would be naive to assume our countrymen and women are immune to the increasingly hostile environment,” he noted.

“Besides historical baggage and the troubled perception of the country regarding faith-based militancy, the overall conduct of Britons of Pakistani descent has not been exemplary. While there are exceptions, generally as a subgroup of the UK population, we tend to deal in cash to conceal our real earnings and avoid taxes. We often try to preserve our traditional lifestyle and practice regressive customs that have been forgotten or abandoned in Pakistan. We are typically among the first to claim the benefits of being Britons and the last to come forward to share responsibilities in our communities,” lamented a keen observer.

“Malalas and Sadiq Khans help, but we Pakistani Britons are all ambassadors of our country of origin. Before the people or the government of the UK can change their attitude of distrust, we need to work within our own community to adapt and integrate into the society we have chosen to identify with,” he concluded.


Afshan Subohi

The writer is a freelancer

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