Until recently it was widely believed that Janga Bahadur Rana, then the Prime Minister of Nepal, was the first Nepali, along with 24 members of his entourage, to visit the UK. A paper published in England in July 1850, shows that Mutty Loll Sing (Moti Lal Singh), who had participated in the Anglo Nepal war of 1814-1816, was the first Nepali to visit as well as to live in England. In fact he was living in London when he met and joined Nepal's Prime Minister in 1850. Though Nepali youths have been joining the British Armed Forces as the famous Gurkhas for about 200 years, the flow of migration of Nepali people to the UK by various routes only started around the middle of the twentieth century. The recent (relatively) high rate of immigration of Nepalis to the UK also makes them one of the fastest growing ethnic minority groups in the UK.
Victoria Day, Aldershot, with Nepali pipes. Photo courtesy: Milan Tamu. www.gurkhas.com
Until a few years ago, only a very limited amount of demographic and socio-economic data on Nepalis in Britain was available in the census and other surveys conducted in the UK. The 2001 UK census recorded data on ethnic minorities, and indicated only 5,943 Nepalis living in the UK. It seems that the number of Nepalis was almost certainly under-reported in the census as they were categorised as “Other Asians”, and were only identified by the country of birth.
The recent CNSUK survey has, for the first time, systematically attempted to identify the number and the characteristics of the Nepali population in the UK. The survey shows that at the end of 2008, the number of Nepali residing in the UK was 72,173. Furthermore, subsequently, the UK official census also took place in 2011, and some preliminary results have come out. It shows that 60,202 Nepalis were reported by the census in England and Wales, which, for various reasons, is highly likely to be an undercounting. Apart from the population by local authorities, no further information has been received, and, furthermore, the population figure of Nepalis in Scotland and Northern Ireland has not come out yet. Therefore, based on the samples included in the CNSUK study conducted in 2008, summary of the findings and some selected characteristics of Nepali people in the UK are presented below.
The results from the in-depth study of the 7,881 sample population show an increasing trend of Nepali immigration to the UK, and partly in consequence of the change in settlement rights of ex-British Gurkhas, the trend of immigration has risen sharply after 2004 (Figure 1). More Nepalis have come in since 2009 when further settlement rights were granted to all Gurkhas with minimum of four years of service. Similarly, the population was also augmented by the sudden rise in the number of Nepali students in the UK in 2009 and 2010. However, the trend has reversed as an unprecedented number of Nepalis, mainly students, have departed from the UK in recent years. Considering the results of various studies and adjusting their errors, as well as changes due to in- and out-migration in the population pattern, it can be estimated that there were about 80,000 Nepalis residing in the UK by the end of 2012.
Source: CNSUK survey 2008
The results also reveal that migration rates are higher amongst males than females. However, unlike the male-centred immigration of Nepali to various countries in the Middle East and Malaysia (where male representation is significantly higher), it is relatively evenly distributed in the UK (with males at 53% and females at 47%).
The results show that the majority of the Nepali population in the UK comes from selected ethnic groups or Janajatis, which, to some extent, reflects the ethnic composition of the British Gurkha Army. Thus, the UK’s Nepali ethnic composition is found to be different from that of Nepal. Over 26 ethnic groups have been represented in the sample. These groups include: Gurung, Magar (including Pun), Limbu, Rai, Bahun, Chhetri, Newar, Thakuri, Thakali, Tamang, Sherpa, Sunuwar and Dalit. Dalits, who also would like to be identified as Sirjansil in the UK, include Bishwakarma, Sunar and Sarki. Other groups with small population size include: Dura, Sanyasi, Bhujel, Chhantyal and Madhesi (various), Muslim and Dewan.
Source: ONS UK; 2011 Census
CNSUK's survey 2008 showed that about two percent of Nepalis live in Scotland and less than a half a percent in Northern Ireland. The 2011 census data of England and Wales has been released which has been plotted in Figure 2. Like our previous survey, this shows that two in five Nepalis live in the South-East region while more than one in three lives in the London area. These two regions together make up more than three quarters of the Nepali population in the UK. However, Nepalis have reached all regions of the UK and they are found in 326 counties, boroughs and unitary authorities of England and Wales. Rushmoor, Greenwich, Brent, Reading, Ealing, Hounslow, Shepway, Ashford, Harlington and Harrow are 10 such places in order with highest Nepali population. County-wise, of 113 counties or unitary authorities of these two countries, there are Nepalis in 110. The 10 counties or unitary authorities with the highest population in order are: London, Hampshire, Kent, Reading, Surrey, Swindon, Bracknell Forest, Warwickshire, North Yorkshire and Wiltshire. The highest presence of Nepalis in relation to local population is in Rushmoor where Nepalis form 6.5 per cent of the total population of the Borough.
An analysis of a sample of 7,881 people of CNSUK survey, 2008, shows that only about seven in 10 Nepalis in the UK were born in Nepal. Those who were born in Nepal, come from 69 (out of 75) districts. The top ten districts of origin in order are: Kaski, Kathmandu, Sunsari, Maygdi, Syangja, Taplejung, Khotang, Bhojpur, Gulmi and Gorkha. Those who were born outside Nepal, come from 15 different countries including the UK, Hong Kong and Brunei which are the three major countries of birth after Nepal. One in 10 Nepalis was born in Hong Kong, whereas one in twenty was born in the UK. The results also reveal that most of the Nepalis in the UK are young and of economically active age. The average age is 29 years.
In terms of religion, the study shows that Nepalis in the UK follow a variety of religions and, as in Nepal, many people practise a mix of religions. Of the total respondents, a large number reported as Hindu (42%), followed by Buddhist (29%) and Kirat (10%). Over one in six Nepali in the UK follow more than one religion. Nine percent of respondents reported that they follow both Hinduism and Buddhism, whereas five percent follow both Kirat and Hinduism and 2.3% follow Kirat and Buddhism. The other religions that Nepalis in the UK follow are: Christianity (2.2%), Islam (0.2%) and Jainism (0.1%).
The community is still young yet vibrant in terms of community organisations and mutual welfare. There are over 400 community organisations of various types ranging from the broad-based regional welfare organisations to sub-cultural and ethnicity-based organisations, to organisations of Gurkha welfare and activism. The internal diversity within the Nepali community is reflected in a numerous festivities and merrymaking, both at collective as well as household level, around the year. Nepalis are believed to be hardworking people, insistent to be employed, and this is reflected in their high employment rate. Apart from those serving in the British Gurkha Army, most are in the unprofessional, low-skilled and low-paid work, but the number of those entering self-employment, professional works and private businesses is also gradually increasing. The impressive list of social and business organisations contained in this Directory reflects this rise in a short period of time. Along with the experience of migrants to their new found home, the UK, the level of integration and public and political participation of Nepalis is also expected to increase provided that there is a good support system, both internally and officially, in place.
For further details of Nepalis in the UK, please read the CNSUK's publication (2012): Nepalis in the United Kingdom: An Overview.