Daily Archives: 24 May 2011

A little corner of South America ...in South London

Move aside much-maligned Eastern Europeans, research by the University of London has recently revealed that the number of migrants to the UK from Latin America has quadrupled in the last decade.

According to the report, No Longer Invisible, London’s Latin American population has now reached over 113,500 – up from 31,000 in 2001.

The total UK “Latino” population now stands at 186,500 – so that’s 61% of the population living in London, perhaps unsurprisingly.

It’s still nothing like the number of migrants from Eastern Europe, but similar local communities and networks are a reality in London – go to Stockwell or Vauxhall and you’ll see Brazilian pubs and a multitude of Hispanophone and Lusophone cafés, shops, hairdressers and bars.

It’s particularly intriguing for me as, just when I’m less than six weeks away from moving to South America it turns out South America has already made it to London, and in a significant way.

Although Spain and Portugal have the greatest initial pull for many migrants from South America – with the obvious easier linguistic experience for many – the UK is fast catching up, with Spain and Portugal acting more like springboards to the UK and other European countries.

So, the UK figures for the top four countries of the 20 Latin American countries surveyed:

  • From Brazil: 41,380 (53,052 total in UK)
  • Colombia: 15,271 (24,040)
  • Argentina: 5,224 (11,696)
  • Ecuador: 4,557 (5,959)
  • Total UK: 186,469 (113,578)

The report concludes that that Latin American population in London are vital to the capital’s economy and prosperity – with a comparatively high level of employment, running at something like 85%.

The problem is that – although they’re mostly employed and very few of them tap into public services and benefits – many migrants from Latin America have to take an painful downsizing in career options when they arrive.

The report says that most of them ends up in low-paid, primary service jobs with “multiple barrier to integration” – and that the only ones that buck this trend are those who end up opening their own company.

Significant populations from South America started migrating to the UK in the 1970s, including some as political refugees – from countries like Chile, some of whom where escaping Pinochet’s reign of terror.

Whether these migrants will in time be able in future to overcome the barriers – mental or real – to properly integration is still to be seen.

That said, historically speaking, hasn’t the community at large had enough time to do this already?

Could it be that they don’t plan on staying here that long? Would a temporary resident bother going to the effort of trying to escape a ready-made local community of compatriots and integrating properly?

Moreover – in London, is there really anything cohesive and properly British to integrate into?

It interests me most of all as, in some ways I’m going to be making the reverse journey – but will probably be facing the same challenges, although with the benefits of a local other half.

Just 40 days till this journey begins…