Accidental Migrant: Mazharul Islam - Tower Hamlets
Mazharul Islam arrived in Britain in 1989, on his way home from studying for six years in Bulgaria. He told us that he had no initial plans to move permanently to the UK, and came to Britain as a tourist, rather than a migrant:
At first I came with my friend. Really, I was going back to Bangladesh from Bulgaria where I'd completed my MSc degree. When I came here, they gave me a six-month visa. I stayed in a friend's house. He went to work - he had a full time job from 9.00am to 5.00pm. We would sleep all day. When he came back at night there would be a party: cooking, laughing and making noise – we were all bachelors. One day, he suggested that, since we were staying for six months, we should try to get a job. We'd be able to earn some money and our time would pass more easily – it wouldn't be so boring and we wouldn't have to sleep the whole day. So I applied for two jobs and I got one.
While he was studying, Mazharul had no money to travel home to Bangladesh, so he would come to Britain to work and to be with other Bengalis. He remembers:
Britain was very friendly. I used to come every year as a student… I used to work for 15 to 20 days. Doing this work I could earn money for a return airfare. Also, my friends were there, I could enjoy myself with them, walk around. There was Bengali community there. So I could experience a Bengali environment for very little expense.
Although he had worked in Scotland on one such trip for a theatre company, he mainly settled in London because:
At that time, my main skill was in interpreting, and there were good opportunities in London. Outside of London there was nowhere where research was done on Bengalis, on the problems of Bengalis. There were more Bengalis living in London than in other places. London was the centre for Bengalis… So, I chose to stay in London. No other reason. It was mainly for work.
During his visit in 1989, Mazharul got a job working for Tower Hamlets Social Services, who helped him extend his visa. He explained:
At that time they needed researchers on [social] care. I told them my visa was only valid for four months. They said to try anyway. I got the job and immediately after joining, I applied for another job in Tower Hamlets. The Council was recruiting for a similar post. They considered my application… They needed a multi-linguist. They could not get anyone who could communicate in Bangla, Sylheti and English… So I applied and got the job… I told them my visa was going to expire... They said to me to give them my passport. I gave them my passport. Two, three months passed. Suddenly they gave me back my passport and told me my visa was extended for another six months. My job was for one year – I had to submit my project before my visa expired. That was 12 years ago.
The Council later offered him a permanent job:
I told them I had no status, but they said not to worry and to give them my passport. After three or four months, I got my passport back with 'leave to remain'. I was not prepared for that. Every day I expected to have to go back… When I realised I'd got 'leave to remain' I thought I shouldn't neglect the opportunity and should be attentive to my work… A few days after gaining the 'leave to remain' status, I applied for citizenship and got it very quickly, within two or three months. Generally it takes 12, 13, 14 months. Their logic was that I was working for a local authority and my service was good… So that's how it started.
In 1998, Mazharul was introduced to his future wife, who was on a trip from Bangladesh visiting her brother. He and his wife are actively involved in local cultural organisations, particularly in drama productions, and they have two children. Now aged 43, Mazharul has started his own business and bought his own house. However, he reflects:
Living in the UK was an accident. They kept me because they were satisfied with my work. I didn't come here to stay – I was passing through, I was going back to Bangladesh. When I got a visa I stayed here.