Long gone are the days of the ‘glorious’ British Empire, but more than ever us Brits are opting to queue up and drink tea in a diverse range of beautiful countries around the globe.
The ways we migrate and view emigration have changed over the centuries, but the number of British expats is still rising. In this article we take a look at the history of UK migration, how the EU referendum is likely to impact expats and what the future holds for travel-hungry Britons.
There are an estimated 2.2 million UK citizens living in the European Union alone, with another 3 million in other parts of the world. Turns out Britons are the largest group of expats on the planet, which is understandable given our famous desire for sunny climes. Around 40 different countries each host 10,000 of us, with another 60 housing conclaves of around 1000 Brits attempting to integrate and over-enjoy themselves in a manner Caligula would be proud of.
It’s common knowledge that a significant number of Brits gravitated towards Spain in the recent past. The reasons behind the migration aren’t too hard to discern, Spain has better weather, a distinctive food culture and an open housing market. These factors have led to an estimated one million of us moving to the land of the siesta. These days younger Britons are opting to emigrate to a much wider group of countries, spurred on by continuing ease of movement and a concerning UK jobs market.
With the referendum on Britain’s European Union membership looming, millions of emigrants from the UK are wondering how it would affect them. Typically, if you have been on the electoral register in the past 15 years you are able to vote in the referendum, even If you don’t live specifically in the UK but still reside within the EU. Some may ask why people not living in the UK should be allowed to vote on such an issue, but the prospect of the UK exiting the EU is worrying for expats and the outcome could impact them in significant ways. A recent online poll of over 9000 people was split 60/40 in favour of giving them the vote.
If the UK leaves the European Union, Brits overseas might have to contend with some muddy legal issues as their right to free movement is withdrawn. Realistically European member states would be hesitant to kick out their British immigrants, yet the uncertainty clouding the matter is distressing for our displaced denizens.
The current Conservative government had planned for a ‘Votes for life’ system to be implemented for British people in the EU, granting them the vote. However, in the midst of austerity and the general rancour of the ‘Brexit’ debate, plans to introduce the system were waylaid and have not been put forward in time for the vote.
We discuss how the EU Referendum is likely to impact expats in more detail in another article.
The UK has always been a nation of emigrants. Between 1853 and 1913 Passenger statistics claim roughly 13 million Brits left for the New World. Only in recent(ish) history has the UK’s net migration been in the positive figures. For centuries we were obsessed with gallivanting around the globe, subjugating foreign powers and spreading British culture and the English language.
The global impact of the British Empire can be still be seen today, not least through the widespread adoption of the English language. Of course American pop-culture also had a heavy hand in spreading the language, but the point remains.
Nowhere is the influence of British emigration more apparent than in India. In an attempt to ‘Britishise’ the Indian populous, western-style education was introduced by the British Empire. This move had unexpected consequences however, as introducing Indian culture to western philosophers and the ideals of liberty, equality and democracy led to unrest.
Imparting education as an important part of society certainly left its mark on India. One in every 4 graduates worldwide studied in India and roughly 60% of students from across the globe are enrolled in online courses run by Indian universities. India is an incredibly attractive place to study due to the fantastic and varied range of courses on offer.
The Indian government is serious about the country’s education. Just 20 years ago not a single Indian university ranked within the world’s top 200. Today there are over 23 on the list. This is, in-part, due to a heavy focus on ethics and accountability within the education system.
Even with Britons having a worldly reputation for being a bit rambunctious on the streets of Malia, Magaluf and Majorca, travel and exploration has always been, and will remain, an integral part of British culture. For every balding British bloke complaining about a Spanish hotel not serving a full English breakfast there are a score of understanding and culture hungry people looking to explore the world for the first time.
There is a whole world out there begging to be seen with the right pair of eyes. Despite living in the ever-connected world of the internet, genuine, tangible connections with people in other countries can only truly be formed first-hand.
Integrating into a new culture is a unique and nourishing experience, so if you’re considering becoming a UK expat a move overseas could be the best one you ever make.
Image copyright: Phanuwat Nandee
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