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Dirty work

Paddington Bear, one of British juvenile fiction’s most-loved characters, is returning to life in a new book next June. The last novel by author Michael Bond was written in 1979; the new bear tale is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the ever-optimistic Paddington.

One wonders how much of the optimism will carry through to the new tome, tentatively titled Paddington Here and Now. The book takes up a contemporary theme. The original Paddington was an illegal immigrant from the Home for Retired Bears in Peruvian capital Lima. In Paddington Here and Now, the hapless bear will be arrested by the police and face a grilling regarding his immigration status.

It is quite in keeping with the times. The UK has been roiled in recent times by a report from the Statistics Commission, an independent public body, that 81 per cent of the jobs created during the past decade were cornered by immigrants. Meanwhile, the Office for National Statistics has reported that one out of five births in Britain last year was to a woman from overseas. White Britain is feeling threatened.

Of course, the Statistics Commission report is not without flaws. For instance, if you were born abroad as a UK citizen you would be numbered among the foreign born (or immigrant). But for a country which is also being buffeted by outsourcing, the report has come in handy for a good deal of scaremongering.

In the US, meanwhile, the coming presidential elections have provoked a lot of debate on the immigration issue. President George Bush set the cat among the pigeons some time back by calling for a new immigration policy. His logic was that there are several jobs that Americans simply won’t do (see box). You need Mexicans, Pakistanis, Indians and such like to do these dirty jobs.

There is an ethical issue over this neo-slavery, but that is another debate. If the Patels from Porbandar are willing to clean toilets in Piscataway for the privilege of being considered wealthy NRIs back home, that is their business. Throughout history, people have migrated to find a better life. They rarely do, though their children might.

It is happening in India too. In Mumbai and Delhi, a large proportion of the maid servants are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Security services, meanwhile, have been the happy hunting ground of people from Nepal.

“If you are thinking of going abroad on work, you need to make a clear distinction,” says Mumbai-based HR consultant D. Singh. “You must look at the jobs available and distinguish between the jobs the locals will not do and the jobs they cannot do. Always opt for the latter.”

It’s not easy. The labour-intensive jobs, of course, are in the former category; a developed society becomes both older and lazier with the passage of the years. Nursing falls somewhere between the two stools. But what about medicine, venerated as both a respectable and profitable proposition in India?

In the US, very few want to become doctors, particularly general practitioners. First, it is too much hard work. Second, that pipsqueak on Wall Street makes more in his first bonus than a doctor does in his first few years. Third, there is the omnipresent fear of malpractice suits in a litigious society. Understandably, Indian doctors have made rapid inroads into rural America.

What about computer programming? Believe it or not, this is another of those jobs that Americans soon won’t want. There is a future in IT, of course, but no glamour.

What are the jobs that Americans do want? A successful actor? Sure. A baseball or basketball star? Almost certainly yes, though the Japanese and Chinese are coming. A football quarterback? Definitely, that needs pure brawn, an American speciality. And, of course, a Wall Street whiz. Indians have long had a substantial presence in the world of international finance. As the rise of Vikram Pandit at Citibank shows, they are finally coming into their own.

No takers


Unskilled labour


Entry-level construction

Picking fruits and vegetables

Meat packing

Cleaning hotel rooms

Cleaning tables at restaurants

Helping cooks



Medicine (GPs)

Software development / Computer programming

Teaching (particularly accounting, finance and management)

Armed services

(Source: Adapted from “What are the jobs Americans won’t do”, Slate)

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