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Brazzil - Emigration - July 2004

It's Tough Being Brazilian in the UK

Nobody knows the precise number of Brazilians living in the UK.
The Brazilian Embassy in London estimates that there are
80,000 of them. This figure can only be correct if many entered
the country as visitors and stayed on. To face the bureaucracy
and the pitfalls of immigrant life, Brazilians are getting organized.

Guy Burton


Picture Traditionally you could label different parts of London by the foreigners who live there. Earl's Court is full of Australians and Kiwis, the Pakistanis live in the west and the Bangladeshi community in my neighbourhood, Bethnal Green.

Indeed, given their minority status, you could be forgiven for believing that Bengalis make up the majority of residents in the area: they account for around 60 percent of Tower Hamlet's population.

But I'm increasingly hearing Portuguese and seeing Brazilians in the area. From the advertisement for lambada classes in a bar window on Whitechapel High Street (sometimes it takes us a while to catch up with what's hip in East London), which I run past on my jogging circuit, the samba musicians and crowd in the Nightmoves bar on Shoreditch, or the half-drunk conversations between them as we wait for the night bus near Liverpool Street, it seems clear that Brazilians are finding places to live across the capital.

There was a time when a Brazilian, straight off the plane from Rio or São Paulo, would make his or her way to Bayswater. The neighbourhood, on the north side of Hyde Park in the heart of London's West End, is where many foreigners have found their feet. With plenty of other Brazilians, it's always been a useful hangout for recent arrivals, helping them settle in and adjust to British life among peers.

So common was it to find Brazilians in Bayswater that according to Brazzil's 1996 article on emigration - http://www.brazzil.com/pages/cvrmar96.htm - the neighbourhood had gained the epithet Brazilwater among members of the community.

But that was in the past. Although Bayswater remains a hugely popular destination, it does not have a monopoly on Brazilian residents. Arabs, Americans and French (to name but three) throng the streets and rental costs have risen over time.

It is now becoming cheaper to live further out from the city centre—which is where places like Bethnal Green, Whitechapel and Stratford in East London have become more popular amongst many foreign residents. And that includes Brazilians.

How Many?

However, figures on the precise number of Brazilians resident in the UK are hard to come by. The Embassy's press office believed there were around 80,000 in the country, the same estimate in 1996. But the Embassy pointed out that it didn't keep such figures and that the consulate, which deals with inquiries, was more likely to have them.

There is only one Brazilian consulate in the UK, around the corner from the bustle and activity of Piccadilly Circus. It is located down a side street, in a small, almost nondescript building.

Only the flag outside denotes its function, although the consulate shares office space with a Japanese company and the Chileans—at least it did so the last time I visited, more than a year ago.

According to the consulate, no official figures are available on the number of Brazilians living in the UK. "If anyone had it, it would be the Home Office," a spokeswoman told me.

"The only figures we have at the consulate are on Brazilians who register themselves with us. At the moment there are 13,000 who have done that. But that doesn't offer an accurate figure for the Brazilian population in Britain. Some people choose not to register while others leave and don't tell us that they're going. And it's not possible to say where they are all living either."

So I went to the Home Office to ask how many Brazilians are living here. But they weren't able to help either. "You would need to contact the Office of National Statistics," I was told, "The Home Office only controls the entry of people into the country, not whether they stay."

At the Office of National Statistics I wasn't able to draw much joy either. "We don't have details of Brazilians living in the country," a spokeswoman said, "but we can check the census data and tell you how many people who put down their country of birth as Brazil are living here."

That would be useful, I said, but as someone who was born in Brazil, but who carries dual citizenship, would such a figure accurately reflect the number of British-based Brazilians? "It's all we would have," she replied, "and while it's not perfect, it'll give you a rough idea."

She called back soon after. In 1991 there were 9301 people who were born in Brazil living in the country. By the time of the next census, in 2001, that figure had risen to 14,555—roughly the same number as registered at the consulate.

If the 80,000 figure is accurate, where does this figure come from? The Home Office keeps detailed statistics of the people who enter the UK and for what purpose, including whether they are refused permission as well. These are available on the web, but only for the three years to 2002; 2003 figure are provisional and won't come out till November.

According to these reports, 145,000 Brazilians entered the UK in 2000. Of those, 13,300 came for business reasons and 10,500 as students. In 2002, 130,000 arrived, with 13,700 doing so for business reasons and 9700 to study. The number of people trying to enter—without the right paperwork, documentation or sufficient funds—rose as well, from 1814 in 2000 to 2400 in 2002.

But while the Home Office reports those who are refused entry on arrival, the statistics don't show how many Brazilians leave the country in each year. Instead they only show the total number, but not broken down by country of origin.

The absence of this data could well hide the true number of Brazilians in the UK. And if the 80,000 figure is correct then the only way this can be is that many have entered the country as visitors and stayed on; in 2000 84,800 Brazilians arrived in the UK in this position, compared to 65,000 two years later.

Immigration Issues

This seems to be borne out by Vitoria Nabas, a lawyer from São Paulo, who set up her immigration practice among London's Brazilian community last year. In a bright orange coffee shop in Islington's Upper Street on a Saturday afternoon she told me about the kind of people she worked with and the issues they faced.

"I have around 300 appointments each week," she said, "most of which are for immigration issues. They like it that they can speak in their own language"

For Vitoria, the nature of her clients can be broken down into two types. "There are the students, who are middle class and university-educated. They're here to learn English, gain some work experience, usually as waiters or in McDonalds, before they go back. They don't stay in the country long and because they're young, don't have much money.

"The second type is different. They're poor and are less well-educated. They have few opportunities in Brazil. They come to England to work, as cleaners, porters or nannies. They're almost all illegal immigrants, or trying to get married.

"Some come in using a tourist pass; others have student visas and then decide to stay. But some are dual nationals as well. They have Portuguese citizenship which they get through their parents and grandparents."

Vitoria's clients are mainly based in London, but she also has some dealings with Brazilians outside of London. "I've been working with some people in Boston in Lincolnshire recently. They are there because there's a Portuguese community there. Brazilians like to stick with each other, and where people speak the same language.

"But relations aren't always so good. I've heard of one case where the Portuguese were selling Portuguese identity documents to Brazilians, who hoped this would help them remain in the country."

The logic behind this is because Portugal and England are both in the European Union; citizens of each country can live and work in the other.

September 11

Just as the 1994 Real Plan brought parity between the dollar and the new currency on a one-to-one basis, encouraging Brazilians to go abroad, so did Vitoria also think that the 1999 devaluation had also helped in the same way.

"With the real valuing less, it makes more sense to move abroad to work, since the money earned in America or Europe will be worth more back in Brazil."

Vitoria is also convinced that there are more Brazilians in the UK than before, as a result of September 11. "Most Brazilians go to America to work. But since the attacks in New York it has become much more difficult for foreigners—and not just Brazilians—to get into the United States. They're therefore looking where else to go, and England is probably easier."

But since the latest official figures only date back to 2002, we will have to wait and see whether this argument backs up later in the year when the 2003 results come out.

I asked her where most of her clients came from. Which Brazilians were more likely to come to England and end up asking for her help? Vitoria leaned back and thought about it for awhile.

"I get a lot from Goiás and Minas Gerais." She stopped. "And a lot from Paraná. Especially Londrina, for some reason. I don't know why," she said. And then with a smile: "Perhaps it's something to do with the name. London, Londrina."

Last summer. the Brazilian Embassy set up an advisory group, Diálogo Brasil, to improve its communication with its British-based community. At its first meeting in the embassy's gallery annexe in Green Street, the attendees were invited to say what the key concerns were facing Brazilians in the UK.

One after another, each person had something to say about British immigration officials and the apparent mistreatment they had suffered at its expense. Only a month or so earlier Tony Saint's Refusal Shoes had been published, a fictional account by a former immigration official of the ways in which arrivals at Heathrow can be refused entry into the country.

SOS Immigrant

Before the meeting broke up in the unseasonable heat of London last August, it was agreed that steps needed to be taken by embassy and consulate officials to alert the Home Office about these concerns.

Eventually a seminar, `Living in the UK', was also planned and devised, at which immigration issues would be addressed. It eventually took place in south London last month.

Attended by over 100 participants, publicity about the consulate's services was shared, along with details of British immigration and visa requirements and information about the kinds of public services available to Brazilians.

Most helpfully, the embassy put the details of the seminar up onto its website, alongside a most frequently asked questions document put together by the consulate. This included queries about students' right to work, procedures for getting married in Britain and what to do if a person is refused entry or deported.

No doubt all very useful, I thought, but shouldn't this be up on the British consulate's websites in Brazil? Later when I asked an embassy official this, my comments were met with a weak smile, with mumblings of diplomatic sensitivities being uttered sotto voce. However, there are moves afoot to get the material out to tourist agencies back in Brazil, so that people can be informed before they come over.

But it isn't only the victimisation—perceived or otherwise—that Brazilians suffer at the hands of Britain's immigration officials. Vitoria told me that there are a small, but growing number of people who were finding their visas had been stamped incorrectly upon arrival, creating problems when they tried to enrol as students at language schools around the capital.

"What happens is the Brazilian arrives with a student visa to study. But instead of certifying this by stamping a student pass on the passport, the official gives him or her a tourist stamp. Because of the language barrier, they don't know something has happened until it's too late.

"When they go to the school they are told they can't study because their visa is wrong. The person then has to go to the Home Office to get an extension, which they have to pay more for.

"I have had one case where the student arrived with all her documentation in order, including the school where she was going to study. But the officer still gave her a tourist stamp. I wrote to the Home Office but they refused to accept they were wrong and demanded she pay more for a new visa."

When I spoke to the Home Office, I asked them about this. "I've never heard of this before," the spokesman said. "Brazilians don't need visas to enter the UK as tourists, only as students. I can only assume the paperwork was not correct, which would be the reason for the officer denying entry."

Extending Visas

When asked about the ground for refusing someone entry into the UK, the spokesman continued: "The reasons for not allowing someone in will vary from country to country, but it will usually be because they don't have the right documents or visa.

"They may decide that someone with a one-way ticket, insufficient funds to support themselves, no contacts or idea of where they'll stay may be grounds for suspicion. If they suspect the rules are being broken they can interview that person to see whether their suspicion is correct."

Nevertheless, Brazilians make proportionately more extensions to stay in the UK as students than any other country from North or South America. In 2000, 78 percent of extension grants to Brazilians were to study, compared to 77 percent for Colombians, 59 percent for Jamaicans and 9 percent for Americans. Two years later this had rise to 87 percent for Brazilians, compared to 83 percent for Colombians and 11 percent for Americans.

The fact that the Brazilian community is ready to challenge the Home Office over such behaviour would seem to indicate it is becoming more organised. That, Vitoria believes, is due in no small part to the efforts of Diálogo Brasil.

"There's still a way to go," she said. "A few years ago we weren't as united. We're starting to change that. But we still have a lot more to do if we're to become better organised."

Guy Burton is one of the 14,555 who in the 2001 census gave their country of birth as Brazil. He now lives in London where he runs a blog on a range of subjects, including Brazil, at http://guyburton.blogspot.com. He can be contacted at gjsburton@hotmail.com.

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