The [British] North ‘Brain-drain’ and the unsaid

Notes on the difference in British news discourse between economic migrants: domestically, its a ‘brain drain’ narrative, whereas ‘foreign’ economic migrants/refuges are a threat (or potential).

A recent(?) British news narrative describes a ‘brain drain’ of the North of England, where apparently 75,500 more graduates have immigrated to London and south-east cities than the other way around, over the past 10 years. (i.e. about 1% of national graduates). This piece of information sits well with the well-known and growing economic gaps between London (+surroundings +The South generally) from the rest of Britain, particularly the North. The said trend among the said group responds to better short-term specialised-employment prospects there, (as well as social and cultural opportunities, and despite lower chances of owning a home, and having less living space).

The discourse about the graduates’ immigration explains their flee as part of a supposedly national problem. It also takes for granted that society is basically a market: graduates are reduced to their production value (e.g. producing new ‘highly qualified workers’), and the communities are depicted with terms of financial opportunities (or lack thereof). The social is the economic. This mareketisation of social life also manifests in the reactions being suggested to this problem (e.g. by improving GVA).

Yesterday, The Guardian has published two first-hand accounts of young Northerners who moved to London after their graduation. The two accounts display the immigration as an apolitical experience, highlighting meaningless familiar (if not cliché) differences in accents, city size, costs, and property popular truisms, between London and the north. Furthering their apoliticality, the two stories are ‘balanced'(?) by each other, as one has later returned to the North, weakening the proof of an immigration trend, and what it means. Aimed, perhaps, at showing complexity and/or evoke readership’s empathy with detailed personal accounts of internal immigration, in effect, these accounts individualise a social phenomenon, and do not politicise but depoliticise the immigration.

But, more important here, is a notable boundary being constituted through unsaid priorities around two narratives of economic immigration. One narrative is about British internal economic migrants, and it is explored through their financial struggle. Other (namely inter-national) economic migrants/refuges are allegedly a separate phenomenon. As we all know, they flee much less privileged conditions, are forced to undergo an immigration that is manifold more painful and undesired – in order to pursue a prospect of avoiding poverty, or worse.

Global (economic) immigration is almost unmentioned in the first narrative, peeking only very briefly in one of the items, by mentioning that ‘foreign workers’ now  ‘fill the gap’ of those who left the North. This mentioning resonates a familiar narrative of ‘foreigners taking our jobs,’ thus being associated indirectly as ‘another’ undesirable effect of both the North brain drain, and global immigartion.

The separation of economic immigrations into internal and external is a profound ideological device. Supposedly, local brain drain is ‘our’ problem, whereas, immigrants are a threat (or,  sometimes, at best, are an opportunity). There is no mentioning of similarity – let alone, continuation – between the two movements and phenomena. Conceiving, for example, the ‘brain-drain’ caused to the global communities left behind’ economic-refugees would be ‘politically charged,’ and consequently voided. Either it would be read as highlighting the migrants’ potency, thus suggesting that they are a desirable (economic!) asset to their new places of residence, or, conversely, it would be read as a xenophobic insinuation, highlighting yet ‘another’ damage of this undesirable immigration, manifesting an extension of the interested desire that ‘they’ ‘stay’ ‘there.’ (Can you think of Londoners saying that to/about Northerners!?)

But, in fact, not only that the two movements of people have a lot in common, they are a continuation of the same crisis. As I argued before, reducing immigration depends on reducing the underlying victimhood of those escaping the short end of economic gaps between communities. As long as some live relatively comfortable, while others struggle and have much less options, it can only be expected that many will be forced to opt to sacrifice their existing communal and cultural ‘conveniences,’ and take massive risks, to have better, or indeed any, prospects.

So, why is it easier to imaging the struggle of the North/erners being forced to immigrate as ‘our’ problem, but not to see the same problem in global terms?


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