Theresa May's bid to stop poor UK residents bringing in non-EU spouses would have barred my accountant, doctor and dentist
By Shazia Mirza
11 June 2012
My parents came to this country with nothing but some Shirley Bassey records and a pair of flip-flops. My dad (not a closet gay man), harboured a secret desire to meet the singer and mum never felt comfortable in anything else. But the reason they came to England, like so many other immigrants, was not for the weather or the pasties, but for a better life. They wanted their children to be better educated, richer and more successful than they were.
I wouldn't have become a stand-up comedian if my parents had not been allowed to come to this country in 1970 – Pakistan is not famous for nurturing its comedians, especially not crude big-mouthed female ones. This country has given me the freedom to express myself and so I have been able to contribute to the UK economically, culturally and artistically by doing comedy about my upbringing and annoying parents – which gives audiences a different perspective. If we didn't have comedians from varied backgrounds all you'd hear is routines about catchment areas and Waitrose.
Before I became a comedian I was a teacher for years in deprived areas such as Tower Hamlets and Dagenham. Most of the children I taught had parents who were immigrants. One of the schools I taught in had a boy known as Dizzee Rascal. He was raised by his single parent Ghanaian mother, and has gone on to contribute massively to music and popular culture, a source of inspiration to young people in this country.
My parents never intended to come to England and sit around doing nothing except watch Mind your Language and eat basmati rice. They wanted to be well respected and successful. They worked hard. My mother trained here and has been a teacher for 20 years. A lot of teachers born in this country wouldn't stay in the profession for that long.
Under Theresa May's new rules, immigrants will have to earn £18,600 or more to bring in a non-EU spouse, rising to £27,200 for three children. May is clearly implying that poor people can't and don't contribute to society. Not true. Most poor people hate being poor and want to get out of their situation, work hard, gain respect, and become successful. I was brought up with the Asian work ethic. It involved lots of studying and my parents shouting: "Don't ever bring shame on this family by coming home with Bs and Cs!" And if it was legal for me to run a factory aged 12, they would have made me do it. WeThere was no such thing as nine to five in our house. It was work, 24 hours a day, every day, and we never went on holiday. My dad used to say: "We didn't come to this country to go to Butlins – we came here to work."
All my parents' relatives came here with nothing, with nowhere to live, let alone an £18,600 salary. Today most of them are millionaire businessmen in Birmingham and have contributed hugely to the economy by supplying kebabs to drunken people in the city centre on a Saturday night.
Everyone knows someone who is not just a doctor but an "Asian doctor". My accountant is Pakistani, my doctor Sri Lankan, my mechanic Jamaican and my dentist Indian. I can't live without any of them and none of them would have been allowed in under May's new rule. The most important man in my life is Mr Patel, who owns my corner shop. He's open all hours and never judges me when I walk in at 2pm in my pyjamas looking for milk and biscuits.
It is a minority who marry people already living here to come and do nothing. And a lot of people go on holiday, meet someone and fall in love. People meet on the internet, some travel a lot with work and are likely to meet someone from abroad. There was a time when people would ask: "Do I love this person? Does he love me? Does he like Justin Bieber as much as I do? Is he good in bed? Will my mum like him?"
All this is to be replaced with the Theresa May test – "How much is your Isa worth?"