Politicians need to accept immigration and the fact Birmingham is in a new phase of superdiversity, according to the head of a new institute based in the city.
Dr Jenny Phillimore is heading up a new Institute for Research into Superdiversity, or IRIS, which is being launched by the University of Birmingham.
It was her research which found that people of 187 different nationalities have settled in Birmingham and she coined the term to describe the sweeping changes in society over the last decade.
Now Dr Phillimore wants to ‘bring some reason’ to the debate over immigration and with 60 colleagues from a range of disciplines including politics, economics, theology, technology and geography, will study the impact of these changes on society and offer insight into how best to adapt to and make the most of opportunities.
The institute has been launched at a time when immigration is high on the political agenda; the English Defence League and other similar groups have ramped up activity after Woolwich, the rise of UKIP is on the back of fears that thousands of Romanians and Bulgarians are ready to come over and only this week it emerged that thousands of families have been divided over strict immigration regulations.
Dr Phillimore said: “Politicians talk about migration and immigration but these discussions overlook the fact that society is changing at a greater speed and scale than ever before. Diversity is being replaced by superdiversity.
“I want to bring some reason to the debate on migration and immigration. One thing you will never hear a politician say is that it is irreversible. But we reached the tipping point some five to ten years ago. 2.9 million people have come to Britain in the last ten years. Does anyone seriously think we are going to throw them all out?”
She recognises that people are resistent to change but it is something we have to get used to, not only with immigration, but the march of communications and social media. One in eight people in Britain were born overseas.
Globalisation, cheap air fares and more flexible labour markets have all contributed to the change.
“There has been a shift in recent years from us being a multicultural society where we had large well established minority ethnic groups,” Dr Phillimore added. “We now have people from all over the world, and not just in some cities. Diversity is everywhere. Birmingham is probably the best place in Europe to look at superdiversity on this scale. But our work has global implications.
“It is happening almost everywhere in the developed world, Toronto has people from 200 countries, Rotterdam and Frankfurt 170 countries.”
And the Institute will look at making the most of this superdiversity.
“We all talk about the chicken tikka massala as the national dish, But there is more to it than curry.
“The people who come here have networks all over the world. That is a fantastic economic opportunity for us. Many come here and set up small enterprises.”
She added that another myth is that immigration is mainly low skilled farm workers and waiters, but points out we have fee paying foreign students supporting our universities and high skilled workers.
“More people, from a greater number of countries are living in the UK than ever before. Research into this emerging trend is of critical importance to understanding the challenges and opportunities for our society and economy.”
The institute will undertake high quality research to inform policy making and public debate about the demographic, social, political and cultural changes brought by international migration and globalisation.