From 2001 to 2008, according the UK census statistics, the Thai born population in the UK nearly doubled. 72% of this population was made up of Thai women.
A recent UK government agency survey among Thai women resident in the UK found that a majority said they faced discrimination and limited career prospects. This is despite the fact that Thai women in the UK were found more likely to have a third level education then their UK counterparts. 39% of Thai born in Londoners had a third level education while the figure was 31% for UK born citizens. Wasana, one of thousands of Thai women who arrive in the UK each year through marriage to a UK man, told the South London government agency 'I'm an educated woman but most of my UK friends think of Thai women and then think, sex.' The reason for this perception may well be the continuing problem of human trafficking in the UK. Despite police crackdowns and the courts handing out stiff sentences to those involved, nearly two thirds of boroughs in London report problems with Thai women working as sex workers in the UK sex industry. The UK Home Office has placed Thailand on a list of countries from which women are trafficked into the UK for sex work and has deployed considerable resources and measures to curb it.
In contrast to this, the growing popularity of Thai dating sites, the internet in general and social network sites has resulted in an explosion of contact between singles in Thailand and the UK. 'I'm not looking for a Thai wife, but I have a few Thai girlfriends and I visit Thailand every chance I get,' says Rob, a Surrey man who responded to our Thai dating site survey earlier this year. 'I have thought of relocating to Thailand but I haven't really decided yet. I am looking for a Thai wife simply because they are such beautiful women,' says Alan from Birmingham. 'I met the woman of my dreams and now she's my wife. When I thought of meeting a Thai wife initially, I first thought about a Thai marriage agency or some such but nowadays it's all about the internet. Not till later did we decide to live in Thailand. It's been wonderful for me,' says James Turner, who now lives near Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.
Thai dating site activity, engaged in, by UK men has resulted in one of the most notable patterns of Thai immigration into the UK, a large increase in the number of Thai women who marry UK men each year. Between 2003 and 2006, 64% of all settlement grants to Thai immigrants went to Thai wives whereas only 3% when to Thai husbands. This is one of the key reasons for the unusually broad geographical spread of the Thai community in the UK, mostly Thai women through marriage. The 2,000 or so Thai restaurants in the UK may also be a key factor in both the growth of the Thai community and its broad spread across most UK population centres. In a recent study by another UK government agency, it has emerged that nearly 41% of Thai women working in the UK are engaged in the hotel and restaurant sector compared to 4.6% for the UK population on average.
The Thai community is well served by a network of Thai government agencies and consular offices in key UK cities including the Thai embassy in London. In addition to this, there are quite a few Buddhist temples in the UK to supporting the growing Thai community spread across the country but particularly in London, Sheffield, Birmingham and Glasgow. A key UK-Thai agency is the Samaggi Samagom which was established in 1901 by the Thai King Rama VI.
Thai students in recent years have targeted UK third level institutions to study including post graduate courses. One source estimates that almost half the visitors to the UK in 2008 from Thailand were students.
The internet and Thai dating sites combined with changes in society in Thailand and the UK has resulted in an explosion of cross cultural relationships:
- 15% of Thai women seeking a foreign marriage or life partner said they had found a life or marriage partner in the UK according to our Thai dating site survey conducted throughout 2009.
- As the marriage rate in the UK declines, many younger UK men have established both long term and short term relationships with Thai women in Thailand and visit the country on a regular basis.
- Many UK men from more affluent and financially secure backgrounds have opted for Thailand as a retirement destination to take advantage of the country's lower cost of living and attractively priced health services. The internet, not least the Thai dating site, has empowered this lifestyle through improved communications and availability of services worldwide.
- A very small number of UK women use internet dating to find a Thai man as a marriage or life partner but this market is expected to grow after it reaches a critical mass.
'The internet and such Thai dating sites have really empowered Thai women,' said a Thai university lecturer from Khon Khaen recently.
It is expected that as long as the traditional western lifestyle declines and varies in line with the continuing and marked decline in the marriage rate, most notably in the countries such as the UK, that the growth in international Thai internet dating will continue as well as the number of UK men seeking Thai life partners, girlfriends and wives.