The immigration policies of David Cameron’s government will create further barriers for Latin Americans living in the United Kingdom and will put them in an even more vulnerable position, claims one of the authors of “No Longer Invisible”.
Despite their economic, social and cultural contributions to the UK, Latin Americans have long gone unnoticed in this country. This reality can be seen in the lack of public policies aimed at improving their quality of life.
Over the last few years the Latin American community has risen in status within British society. “Previous studies did not exist because the population wasn’t large enough and then in 2005 immigration figures began to soar”, says Cathy McIlwaine.
In order to enable integration, McIlwaine believes that it is important to have an in-depth understanding of the situation of Latin Americans living in England: “The Latino population has needs and through studies we can become more aware of the problems they face so that organisations and local authorities can provide the services that these citizens require”.
She also believes that Latin Americans will become a more established group within the UK although the current government’s policies and the economic recession may put the Latino community in a “more vulnerable” position.
According to Cathy McIlwaine, despite London’s numerous job opportunities there is greater competition due to a mass influx of workers “Jobs now offer less hours and immigrants compete amongst themselves by lowering wages and working harder”.
What are the Latino community’s needs?
Their greatest difficulties are not being able to speak English and their immigrant status. Many Latin Americans work in cleaning services where they are both discriminated against and exploited. There are cases where illegal immigrants work for a month and then find that their employers refuse to pay them. There is nothing they can do about it. Many individuals encounter housing problems and as a result are even forced to return to their home countries. We have discovered that 70% of Latin Americans living in London feel discriminated against.
There are trade unions that are familiar with these cases but if the individual is an illegal immigrant then there is nothing they can do. There are also organisations that work with the community, helping them to obtain visas, adequate housing, etc. I think that a solution to the precarious situation of these individuals could be achieved by changing current policies. This government is much tougher on immigrants.
Does nationality affect access to certain services?
Today, for example, there are no longer any variations in the time it takes to process a visa. In the past citizens from Commonwealth countries had greater possibilities of entering the UK. What we have seen over the last few years is that government policies implicate the need for cheap labour in this country but it is no longer necessary for them to look to Africa or Asia as they can find it in Eastern European countries.
Do immigrants face difficulties in accessing basic services such as health care?
There is a public service based on humanitarian rights which all people are entitled to. Problems occur when illegal immigrants, because of their situation, are afraid to go as they may be identified and repatriated.
In the beginning they resorted to unqualified jobs but over the years their employment situation has improved. Many arrive here well qualified but do not speak the language or find it difficult to express themselves. The higher their level of English, the more jobs are available to them. We have found that they do not work in the same professions as they did in their home countries but that many opt for setting up their own businesses.
How is it easier for these immigrants if they arrive from Spain?
The majority have a European visa and this completely changes the experience. They can use their passports to find better quality and more stable work and to gain access to certain services and state benefits. Those who come from Spain, migrating for a second time, are more prepared. One problem however, is that they are excluded from the services of certain Latino organisations as they have already undertaken the Spanish nationality.
What would recognition as an ethnic minority mean?
Several organisations are carrying out important research in order to discover the real needs of this group. They study their situation in order to be able to advise local authorities on how to focus the measures that they put into practice
Could the economic crisis and the arrival of more immigrants pose a threat to Latin Americans?
I do not think that the economic situation in Great Britain will reach the same level as Italy or Spain yet I do believe that immigration will continue. As a result of recessions in other countries in the Eurozone, Latin Americans are coming to England with the aim of avoiding countries such as France where they believe there to be more racism. London is seen as a city of opportunities. There are still many jobs available, though not a many as before. I think that because of this, discrimination and exploitation will increase.
I hate it. It’s not fair or logical. Britons never want to work in the cleaning or catering industry so a foreign labour force is needed in these sectors. They prefer to receive state unemployment benefits until they find a job more suited to them.
What is the relationship like between the British and Latin Americans?
Very good, they are always thought of as being open and friendly. In the majority of cases there is a positive opinion. The only negative point is the discrimination against Colombians as many people link this population to cases of drug trafficking. This is a destructive misconception which leads to many individuals preferring to say that they are Spanish in order to avoid this discrimination.
I don’t think so but now there are more candidates for the same job. The relationship between them is not as positive. I am repeating opinions that I have heard. Many individuals claim that there is more discrimination in Spain than here.
How do countries benefit from having citizens living in the UK?
The advantages are mostly financial. Many people send their savings home to their families. Numerous Latin American construction companies are currently looking for clients here. There are a large number of Latin Americans living in the UK who pay mortgages in their home countries. This number has increased the influx of money. In addition, shops selling imported products have been opened. When they return to their countries, these people will use everything that they have learnt here back in Latin America which is also an advantage.
It is going to become stronger, many more Latin American citizens will arrive though they will face more difficulties settling in due to the current immigration policies that the government is putting into force. These policies will put them in a more vulnerable position. It depends on how the economy develops. If progress is positive, they will be in a stronger social position to be able to demand their rights and enjoy more regulated working conditions.
(Translated by Rebecca Hayhurst – E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)