A Message from a Manx Manc

I was going to blog about my recent trip to Manchester, ruminating
about my spiritual heritage in the bustle of the city. But then I was told
“There are two boats every day”, a saying any “come-over” will be used to hearing.

I moved over from Manchester in 2005, leaving behind the hustle and bustle of the city I love and developed myself in. Now, I live amidst the beauty of the hills and glens of the Isle of Man. I enjoy fantastic views across the sea and over Maughald and Ramsey. The island offers not only a relaxed pace of life, but also a serenity
that cannot be had in the UK. My reasons for moving on to the island are varied,
others’ will be different, but a large number of people have moved on to the
island. These are known in the Manx lingo as “come-overs”.

Come-overs represent over 50% of the people on the island. These people
occupy jobs in all strata of the Manx economy, from the labourers on the
building sites to the financial CEOs of the international finance industry.
Come-overs bring with them high standards in education, professional training
and years of experience in a variety of industry sectors. They are a breed that
yearns for a change in their pace of life, but are not necessarily shy of
contributing.

It’s not easy getting on the island. To legally occupy a position in the Manx
economy, a work permit is required. The criteria for a work permit is that the
position being applied for must have been advertised to the general Manx
population and not have been filled with an appropriately trained Manx-born
individual, or likely to be filled by such an individual within a 12-month
training period. The objective of this is clearly to ensure that the Manx are
given every opportunity to obtain employment on their home island. For myself,
this procedure took 3 years. The number of jobs that were appropriate for me was
limited, add on the requirement for a work permit and it is easy to see why it
can take a while to get on the island. But I did it. I remember opening the
letter to this day, it was a very happy moment for me.

There are no asylum possibilities, no social welfare benefits and you
certainly don’t get a free ride from the authorities. To claim many social
benefits, you must have been resident on the island for 5 years. Council houses
(known as Commissioner’s Houses) will not be available for 10 years, and rent is
not cheap.

So it requires a determined effort to “come over”.

Despite all this effort, and the contribution that “come-overs” make to the
island, there is an unfortunate hostility targeted at people.

Let’s consider it from the Manx perspective.

The island, until recently, was a dying island. Its children were moving
“across” to the UK, probably after studying at a university and gaining
employment. There were no real opportunities on the island. Its Tourism
industry, which enjoyed its heyday during the Victorian era (the island still
sports Victorian attractions, including railways, a pier and horse trams) was
rapidly declining as people started to fly abroad. Then, as a result of a change
in fiscal legislation, the island was afforded low-tax status, resulting in an
influx of major international finance houses. This has changed the face of the
island not only economically, but also architecturally. Alongside the Victorian
pubs in Douglas lie the glass ultra offices such as Royal Bank of Scotland
International. This has created thousands of jobs for islanders and
off-islanders, and creates a real career path for Manx people to follow with
many opportunities available.

So why the hostility?

The work permit legislation serves to limit the incoming labour force and
ensure that Manx workers get the first opportunities of jobs. If there are no
suitably qualified workers available on the island, then it is logical that
companies will have to look further afield. I fully agree with this procedure,
even having to wait 3 years to get to a point to be lucky enough to go through
it. My work permit must be renewed every year for five years. Seems perfectly
fair to me.

Incoming legislation currently going through Tynwald (the name for the Manx
government) will require similar assurances of commitment to the Manx economy
and culture for incoming off-islanders as the tests that have been introduced
for immigrants in the UK. A test will ensure that people are aware of the Manx
traditions, laws and way of life. I was not required to go through this stage,
but I was so committed to coming over here I expect I would have passed with
flying colours!

The benefits to the Manx economy of “come-overs” must be immense. Not only
can companies and individuals on the island now access their own skill-base, but
also the skills of a vast array of new individuals, such as individuals who have
been taught in universities and colleges, with the latest of teaching and
techniques. These will be brought on to the island, and be introduced in some
way to the working environment of the island’s businesses. New skills,
particularly Internet skills, are proving invaluable to island’s economy. A
number of web development agencies, IT consultancies and software houses are
situated on the island, and then there are the e-gaming opportunities the island
is keen to attract. The Space industry is also being courted. This industry of
all industries requires the keenest, most intelligent people available, and
requires a wide and far-reaching net for their recruitment.

We also contribute to the Manx economy. Sure, the island enjoys a low-tax
regime, but that low-tax regime is essentially supported by the fact so many
people are paying into it. The island has seen major public investment, not
least of which is a new hospital, with the latest in medical technologies such
as MRI scanners being available.

Sure, I’m guilty of complaining about the Manx way of life, the lack of
entertainment venues on the island or such like. But it is my choice to
complain. It is also my choice to stay. I love Manchester, but I also have a
number of issues with it. I defy anyone to be truly happy with their environment
or country of residence.

I’m definitely not anti-Manx, either. I take care to maintain and protect the
environment and keep the beauty of the island, whether that be picking up litter
to walking with due consideration over its hills. I am also in the middle of
learning the local language of Manx Gaelic, something that the vast majority of
Manx don’t do themselves, or even consider as a worthwhile endeavour.

So the next time I am told to get on the boat, I will not only tell them
“actually, I prefer to fly”, but also point them in this direction.

Maybe you disagree? It is provocative topic, after all!

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