Immigration and Multiculturalism: How It Began

Britain, a popular destination for people worldwide.
Many people from India emigrated to Britain.

Britain, over the last few hundred years, has become visibly multicultural. This road to multiculturalism, in every important respect, started with a relatively small amount of black slaves and free blacks arriving in the 17th and 18th centuries. The slaves often worked as domestic servants, while the majority of free blacks, who had won their freedom by fighting for the British army, generally had trouble finding qualified work.

Immigrants from India and Ireland

Moving forward in history, seamen and servants from India came in increasing numbers in the 1800s. In the same century, moreover, desperate Irish fled to Britain in large numbers in an attempt to escape mass starvation. The Irish, then, added to many other Europeans who came at about the same time for various reasons.

Immigration from colonies

The arriving blacks, Indians and Irish had all come to Britain from within the British Empire, demonstrating the fact that, as a general rule, anyone living in the empire was allowed to enter Britain legally. Seeking to work or study, or simply fleeing poverty, were all common motivations to legally come to the imperial motherland, and as a consequence, Britain became home to people from all over the world already in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

A policy change

Though the immigrants often applied themselves well, their arrival caused friction. This was in part because many working-class Brits and immigrants became rivals who competed for the same low-skilled jobs and the same affordable housing. Not surprisingly, therefore, with steady immigration, ethnic tensions grew, and in the mid-20th century, tensions had escalated to such a degree that the government felt obliged to limit immigration from its colonies and former colonies. However, as explained in the next chapter, immigrants from all over the world continued to come.