Once upon a time: how anti-migrant politics threaten the British writing industry
As Brexit dominates the headlines, Alexandra Jarvis, a writer for the Immigration Advice Service, has some stringent opinions on the impact Brexit will have on our creative sectors. She asks, how do we stop the damage before it’s too late?
A nation divided, the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union and its subsequent result has had and will continue to have catastrophic consequences for the UK and its people. Immigration has dominated the Brexit discussion with migrants yet again the scapegoat for mainstream media and senior politicians to push their agendas. It was nothing short of maddening to see the likes of David Cameron and George Osborne, after years of forcing through their politics of austerity which shredded and continue to shred public services to the bone, attempt to push for a pro-EU stance. To divert from the coalition’s individualistic politics, anti-immigration voices via mainstream media had been on the metaphorical megaphone for years and yet Cameron and his pals had the gall to wonder why Leave prevailed.
This hostile environment has created a monster that no one can tame. The rise of the Brexit Party and Farage’s ego-driven noise continues to birth even more xenophobia and racism with, in my opinion, Boris Johnson’s Conservatives (or at least a major faction) eager to give life to such divisive policies and practices. Migrants, and those originating from cultures other than white British, have come under intense scrutiny. The sentiment of ‘I want my country back’, as peddled by Leave camps, is linked to a perception of loss: loss of privilege that those in majority, dominant societal groups enjoy at the expense of anyone who falls outside this narrow box. False information, such as migrants taking jobs from native Brits and being to blame for housing shortages and lack of access to medical care from the NHS, has contributed to the misplaced anger felt by many. Migrants report effects on mental health regarding immigration enforcement with fear of being detained or deported, costs of visas and applying for British Citizenship.
This nationalistic ideology is restricting British industries including the creative sector as immigration policies look set to become even more punishing post-Brexit. It is of little surprise that the UK’s creative industries voted 96 per cent to ‘remain’ when voting during the referendum – these industries know migration is integral to creativity. Pro-Brexit voices try to rubbish creative voices as if they are promoting meaningless, liberal nonsense. But data shows that the creative sector generates £87 billion a year for UK coffers, accounts for one in 11 jobs, and is the industry least likely to become automated.
Migrant and diaspora writers have breathed life into British literature, showcasing its diversity and talent. The cultural heritage in the UK would be bleak, boring and non-representative without migrant talent.
The Society of Authors, in a briefing on Brexit, is taking a stand against the visa salary rules for skilled migrant workers which requires them to earn £35,000 to qualify for indefinite leave to remain the UK. The briefing discusses how measuring a migrant’s worth based on annual income is insulting and unrepresentative of their value. UK authors earn an average salary of £10,500 per year in comparison to the ludicrous requirements for migrant writers, showing the unrealistic nature of a £35,000 salary stipulation.
Restrictive, exhausting and unwelcoming immigration laws are deterring migrants from working and living in the UK, placing a strain upon British writing industries. And it’s likely things will only get worse what with the post-Brexit barriers to writers’ travels, often essential for research. The success of literary and cultural festivals and events in the UK looks wobbly – after all, what writer or creative from Europe wants to go through the frustration of a post-Brexit examination before entering the UK when hundreds, if not thousands, of accessible events are happening across the mainland?
The missing conversation is about the relationship between our island and EU countries, all vastly different yet equally rich in culture. When it comes to publishing, the UK currently benefits financially from making the most out of English-language rights to books sold across the continent. This will be under threat, especially as American publishers start to circle, ready to pounce and make the most of Britain’s weakened position.
It is a matter of urgency (for our industry and our moral fabric) that immigration policy is reformed in a way that promotes and encourage diversity. The creative sector, including freelance workers who have little ability to meet the salary requirements, must not be suppressed by policies born out of xenophobia and anti-migrant politics. If creative industries are to thrive, culturally we need to change by recognising the worth that migrants have to British society. It is time to stop legitimising anti-migrant rhetoric as merely a difference of opinion. Leave may like to speak about Project Fear, but the real fear has been created by their kind of politicians for decades. The arts are what make us human – to jeopardise their growth and reduce British writing industries to a toothless entity will make for one of the saddest stories yet to come.
By Alexandra Jarvis
Alexandra Jarvis is a writer for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of UK immigration solicitors which provides legal support for those looking to migrate to the UK or hire overseas workers.
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