Case study: Fang Ping

Fang Ping is a 22-year-old woman from Fujian province in China, where she worked as a supermarket cashier. She has been living in the UK for nearly two years and, at the time of the interview, was living in Birmingham with her boyfriend, who is also an undocumented migrant. They rent one small room for £200 a month in a house shared with more than a dozen people. All the occupants are Chinese and most sell DVDs on the streets. She currently sets up a stall in the Sunday market and pays a fee to a friend to borrow residence papers to enable her to have a stall. She sells bags, handicrafts and gadgets sent from China and can make £100 on the stall. In addition, she sometimes works a few hours a day washing dishes and is paid £4 an hour. She has previously worked in the UK distributing leaflets for a takeaway shop and as a kitchen assistant, where she earned £180 a week

Fang Ping paid 300,000 Yuan (RMB), which is nearly £20,000, to come to the UK in 2006. A girl she knew was arranging to go abroad, so Fang Ping decided to join her, thinking it would be better in the UK than in China. In Fujian, as Fang Ping says,

 … there’s a trend to go abroad. When there’s a chance to go everyone wants to leave.

Fang Ping’s father has been an undocumented migrant worker in Japan and had warned her of the potential hardships but she wanted to make the journey. She describes her route in the following way:

I held a visitors visa for… Romania… from there transferred to Germany. We transferred and arrived in Germany. And at the airport in Germany, I stayed there for one night. There were three of us. It was in December and was very cold. It was so cold that the three of us had to hold ourselves together… Later, a local contact (snakehead) got us another passport… a Japanese passport. And with that passport, we flew to the UK… When we were entering the airport (through Passport Control)… It was at a time lots of people were coming in… We didn’t say much and let them see the passports… They didn’t ask a lot of questions. When they were looking at the passport… I was so scared when I was coming through the gate (Passport Control). I was so scared that we might be caught. If we were caught, we’ll then be finished…

Fang Ping realises that she has been comparatively lucky in her journey because she flew, while others had much more traumatic experiences which had been recounted to her.

Some had to climb mountains, or walk the tunnels when they smuggled themselves out… Some had to cross borders between countries… there were wire meshes… Say if you hurt your feet, the snakeheads don’t even bother! They might as well throw you down the mountain, and let the group continue with the journey. Because if just one of the group is [found] and arrested, all the group may be [found] and sent back home. They can’t afford to get the others into trouble just because of one person.

Fang Ping does not regret her time in the UK, feeling that it has given her chances to accumulate more money than she would have in China. She would like to open her own restaurant or takeaway shop, but can’t realise her dreams without status, so she hopes, ‘… that the UK Government will declare an amnesty’.