This report is written at a time in which discussions are taking place among London’s Chinese about what the future may look like. Will London’s Chinese community, so long dominated by Cantonese speakers from Hong Kong and ethnic Chinese from Malaysia and Singapore, become a Mandarin speaking community dominated by migrants from the Chinese mainland? Will the new migrants be as successful as the old in terms of finding an economic niche in British society? Will there be two different Chinese communities? Or three? Or more? These questions suggest that we are still in a period of transition, and the exact situation as it is today may soon be forgotten. But decisions made now with regard to policy, provision and integration, by those within the Chinese community and policy-makers without, are likely to be ones that lay the foundations, and determine the prospects, for London’s Chinese population in the future. We present research findings that explore new Chinese migrants’ living conditions, their hopes and aspirations, their economic activities, their problems and needs and their ways of meeting them. We look at the ways in which they engage with British life and institutions and their ability to integrate and get by. We also explore their relationship with the settled Chinese population in London and the existing infrastructure of Chinese institutions.


The research undertaken to compile this report encompassed several different strands and methods:

·      A desk-based review of the relevant academic and policy literature
·      A face-to-face survey with 177 Chinese migrants from all over London
·      30 in-depth interviews
·      5 ethnographic case studies
·      2 workshops with community leaders and frontline service workers from London’s Chinese community

Key statistical facts and findings


 - Estimates suggest that number of people born in China now living in London could be anywhere between 100,000 and 300,000
 - In 2009 there could be as many as 60,000 Chinese students in British universities
- Asylum seekers make up a relatively small part of the Chinese population in London and the UK. Only 2100 applications were made in 2007, 1860 of these were refused

Facts about the 177 survey respondents:

·      84% came from mainland Chinese provinces
·      Of those from the mainland, 42% came from one province: Fujian. Others came from all over the Chinese mainland
·      83% were under 40 years old
·      95% of those surveyed could speak Mandarin, 40% spoke Fujianese dialects and only 38% spoke Cantonese (the traditional language of London’s Chinese population). Most respondents could speak more than one Chinese dialect
·      86% had arrived in the UK since 2005
·      Half of those surveyed were men, and half women
·      30% were students or held post-study work visas
·      Just under 50% held documentation allowing them to live, work or stay in the UK. The remaining 50% did not

Findings: Reasons for coming to London

- Most of those who had not come to the UK to study, had come to the UK to engage in employment or business (58%). For undocumented migrants the proportion was higher (78%).
- 85% of students had come primarily to study at university, 9% had come to join family. Of those without student visas, 21% had come to the UK in the hope of studying at some point
- There were only a small number of asylum seekers (9) and even fewer had been granted ‘indefinite leave to remain’ (3).

Findings: Families and separation

Many new Chinese migrants have been separated from family members.

- Excluding students, 50% were married and 53% had children
- Between a third and a half of married Chinese migrants had left their spouse in China
- 64% of those migrants who had children, had at least one child who was living in China. This figure rises to 78% amongst undocumented migrants

Findings: Plans for the future

- 67% said that they were planning to settle indefinitely or were ‘not sure’ about their future plans. This figure rose to 79% for those who were undocumented
- 78% of those who had arrived before 2007, were unsure about their future in the UK or planned to settle indefinitely.
- For those who had arrived since 2007, only 50% were unsure, 50% planned to stay for 5 years or less
- 71% of those who had arrived before 2007 had changed the planned length of their stay. Only 37% of those who arrived after 2007 had changed their plans. The research suggests that the longer a migrant stays in the UK, the more likely they are to change their plans. Most often, this involves staying for longer.

Findings: Work and employment

- One third of respondents worked in the catering industry
- 60% were in formal employment and of those, 69% were in full-time employment. Men were more likely to be working full-time (77%) than women (59%)
- A significant minority of the respondents were engaged in informal types of employment such as DVD selling or prostitution
- Undocumented migrants were 4 times more likely to be job-seeking than documented migrants

Findings: Living conditions

- Chinese migrants were living in households with an average size of 5.4. The national average is 2.4. Official figures about Chinese living in Britain, place the figure at 2.9. New Chinese migrants are likely to be living in cramped and over-crowded conditions. F
or undocumented workers the average household size was 6.6.- 45% of Chinese migrants lived in houses with more than 6 people, 23% with more than 8 and 13% with more than 10.
- 65% of the sample said they lived with people other than family members and a further 16%  said that they lived with other whole families.

Findings: English language skills

- 88% of undocumented migrants say they have little or no English language skills
- 68% of all migrants claimed to have little or no English language skills
- Most of those who did claim to have English skills were students. But even then only 63% of student claimed to have ‘conversational’ or ‘fluent’ English language skills, raising questions about the ability of many to follow English university courses.

Findings: Use of Public services

- 34% of new Chinese migrants claimed to have used a hospital and 42% had seen a doctor
- Only 2 people (1%) had made use of public housing services
- Only 7 people (4%) had made use of benefits agencies
- 3% had made use of public schools
- 3% had used social services
- 10% of Chinese migrants had sought help from job-centres
- More women (75%) had used services than men (51%)

The most common reasons given for not using public services were: ‘lack of information’ (35%), ‘not needed’ (20%), ‘not entitled’ (17%) and ‘no time’ (10%)

Findings: Use of Chinese community organisations

- Only 22% of those surveyed had used services provided by Chinese community organisations
- 75% of those surveyed said that they lacked information about Chinese community organisations and the services they provided
- Most use of services came through recommendations from friends and from advertisements in free Chinese newspapers and other Chinese media, such as community radio

Demand for services was high. The services that migrants said they most wanted to see in Chinese community organisations were:

·      Immigration advice 49%
·      Legal Advice 48%
·      Employment advice 38%
·      English classes 22%

Key findings from the qualitative research

Social cohesion: In many ways the findings in this report challenge the very concepts upon which discussions of social cohesion are constructed. Chinese migrants are often either ignored or invisible within communities. London’s new Chinese migrants are often isolated or ‘segregated’, living and working almost exclusively with other Chinese migrants. In other words, new Chinese migrants, at least as they appear in our research, ought to present something of a problem to those attempting to create social cohesion, but because they are not associated with the actual ‘problems’ that lack of integration is supposed to cause (violence, extremism, faith division, inequality etc), they are largely forgotten by policy makers.

Expectations: Many new Chinese migrants come with the expectation of very high-living standards and plenty of ways to make lots of money. The value of the £ is attractive, and western TV shows and films show London as a wealthy modern city. Many plan to stay for only a short time to make some money before returning to China. These expectations often meet the harsh reality that it can be difficult to find work, there are problems with language, living conditions are poor and there are unscrupulous people willing to take advantage of new migrants’ naivete.

Loneliness and separation: Many Chinese migrants suffer from a sense of grief and loneliness at being separated from family members. They must often share crowded accommodation with people they do not know and with whom they share little in common. Many Chinese migrants long for company, romance and a stronger network of friends.

Debts and exploitation: Many new Chinese migrants come to London with large debts incurred during the process of migration. Payments made to agents and snake-head migration brokers can be as large as 200,000 RMB (or £18,000).  In order to pay off these debts, new Chinese migrants in London will find work wherever they can, often accepting long-hours for low pay. They may also work in poor conditions with little time-off. For those without documentation, there is the risk of exploitation by unscrupulous ‘agents’, who may take money for poor job advice, employers who pay far less than the minimum wage or withhold pay altogether, and those who offer to help with immigration status, but provide little in return for fees.

Work: Whilst many still work in the catering industry, new Chinese migrants are engaged in a wide range of types of employment. Students are finding jobs in all parts of the labour market, and other migrants are finding jobs in construction, hospitals, media etc. Undocumented workers are still largely confined to manual work or informal business however. Finding stable work can mean that migrants are able to build lives, pay off debts and build new sets of aspirations for the future.

Segregation: Chinese migrants live largely Chinese lives. They interact mainly with Chinese people, shop and work in Chinese businesses, eat Chinese food and speak and learn Chinese languages. They do not integrate in any meaningful way with other parts of British society. There are also divisions within the Chinese population, especially between the older settled migrants who are largely Cantonese speaking and the newer Mandarin speaking mainland Chinese migrants. The major effect of this separation is the subsequent lack of support that is available to new migrants.

Recommendations and innovations:

The following recommendations were made with mind to improving the delivery of support to new Chinese migrants and to enhance their ability to integrate into London life, thus promoting the ideals of social and community cohesion.

Funding: Continuous funding, new funding, core funding: Whilst it is important for the Chinese community to continue to lobby central and local government bodies on the issues presented in this report and to call for funding, we call on both local and central government departments and bodies directly, to take seriously the findings presented in this report and consider providing support in the form of funds to Chinese community organisations and initiatives that aim to directly address the needs of Chinese migrants in London.

The establishment of a Chinese umbrella organisation: The organisation would serve three purposes: 1) It would create an inclusive network for the Chinese community in which information and ideas can be shared quickly between organisations and service providers 2) It would act as a forum for the development of over-arching strategic principles or aims for the future delivery of services to the changing Chinese community 3) It would act as the public face of efforts to promote and maintain the stability and success of London’s (and Britain’s) Chinese community.

The establishment of a national database of Chinese services and organisations: There is no reliable, central source of information to which Chinese service providers can turn to get advice or make referrals when dealing with new Chinese migrants. A long-term goal of such a database would be to build a searchable online resource for both migrants and service providers alike.

The creation of a national information and advice telephone line for Chinese migrants: The creation of  national telephone helpline has a number of advantages over he traditional model of disseminating information through Chinese community centres when dealing with new Chinese migrants.

-       Information can be given anonymously
-       A phone number is easier to publicise than a list of services
-       A small number of staff or volunteers are needed to maintain a round-the-clock  service
-       A telephone service can be accessed from anywhere
-       Telephone staff can be trained to provide a dedicated service of providing information and advice.

English Language Training:A number of suggestions for how to develop the provision of language training for new Chinese migrants were developed during the course of our workshops.  The suggestions below address the issues of learning English, with mind of migrant fears of going to formal classes, the lack of time in the day in which migrants have time to formally study English and the perceived restrictions on providing services to certain types of migrants.

-       The continuation of free English language courses for asylum seekers and refugees
-       Workplace English: Many Chinese migrants work in Chinese businesses in which the use of Chinese languages is ubiquitous. Employers could be encouraged to promote the use of the English language through signage, or periods of the day or spaces in which English is used.
-       Employers could be encouraged to incentivise English learning amongst staff
-       Chinese community centres could provide language exchange courses or groups, in which  English speakers can learn Chinese in exchange for Chinese language lessons
-       The removal of funding and statutory restrictions on who may attend English courses aimed at Chinese migrants

Creation of a Chinese Volunteering database: There are existing volunteering databases and skills bases in the UK. These services could be replicated or adapted to serve as a resource for community organisations and to provide opportunities to settled Chinese, Chinese students or new migrants themselves to work with new Chinese migrants.

Development of a communications and outreach strategy: A strategy needs to be developed by and for Chinese community organisations to enable effective communication of information and services to the different networks of new Chinese migrants.

Active recruitment of Mandarin speakers: Chinese organisations are encouraged to take seriously their responsibility to deal with all parts of London’s Chinese population and. Actively seek to recruit Mandarin speaking staff

Census drive: Chinese community organisations are encouraged to create a census drive designed to raise the response rate in the Chinese population. Local councils too have a vested interest in helping Chinese community organisations to do this. Local councils can be lobbied to employ Chinese-speaking census enumerators, which will provide employment to Chinese, and help to gain a more accurate picture of the number of Chinese people living in London.

Innovative training programmes / Best-practice data-base: Best practice ideas this need to be shared more widely throughout the Chinese communities. Chinese organisations should be encouraged to share knowledge of innovations and best-practice between themselves. Consideration of policies affecting migrants: Policy makers are urged to engage in a robust dialogue with Chinese community leaders to explore the real consequences of certain immigration policies.

Further research into specific aspects of new Chinese migrant lives: Research into the specific nature of things like exploitation, informal economies, social networks, reasons for leaving China etc. should be supported and encouraged in order to better understand Britain Chinese population and make appropriate policies aimed at social cohesion.