Some means of communication allow people to maintain family links and enable close contact between loved ones. Social networks have overcome the barriers imposed by distance, and are a key factor in the 21st Century, for the successful socialisation and integration of people living away from their homelands.
Natalie Margarita González is a Chilean contemplating emigration to the UK to study at university. She is plagued by a number of doubts surrounding her prospective situation and status as an immigrant residing abroad. Having no friends or family in the UK she has decided to seek help and answers to her questions by making use of social networks.
On the Facebook page “Chilean Students in London”, she asks whether the visa she will be getting – the well known TIER 4 visa – will allow her to work in England. Marco Stuardo has answered her question, stating that indeed, as foreign student, she will be eligible to work up to 20 hours a week.
A few lines further down, one of her countrymen, Luis Hernán Vargas, has published an image depicting a protest, in front of the Chilean Embassy in London, in defence of the right for Chileans residing abroad to vote.
These are just two examples of how immigrants living in places far removed from their countries of origin are making use of social networks – digital platforms which have brought about important changes in the way people communicate with each other, and which have, without doubt, had an important impact on immigration.
At a meeting of Bloggers in Canada, in the context of the Festival of Latin Art 2012 – which dealt with the theme of immigration and how people adapt to changing social contexts – the journalist Valeria Landivar confirmed that these new communication platforms play an important role in the “integration” of foreign nationals.
Moreover, they facilitate the sharing of knowledge, rendering one of Robert Park ‘s – the founding father of social assimilation theory – concepts a reality,in 1922 he said that “the immigrant must learn quickly because his life depends upon this”.
Rudimentary forms of communication are now well behind us. The hand written letter has been consigned to history. Now, technology offers cheap instantaneous communication. Waiting months for an envelope to arrive with a response is only for the “die hard”.
A study of Latin Americans living in the UK indicates that these nationals like to remain in close and regular contact with family and friends despite living abroad.
Around 97% of them speak with their nearest and dearest on a regular basis, the majority of them once a day. The means of communication most often used are the telephone and social networks, but the latter have become more prominent in recent years.
There is no shortage of reasons for this. For one, they are cheap and all you need is an internet connection. For another, they offer an infinite number of possibilities, from attaching photographs and videos, to sharing messages or creating groups, in addition to the other special features available.
In order of importance, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and Hi5 are the most used platforms in the world. Experts in communication point out that the best example that demonstrates the huge impact which social networks are having is the number of people using Mark Zuckerberg’s brainchild.
Facebook topped a billion users last October, with 109 million from Latin America alone. Among other notable statistics is the fact that 70% of internet users are members of at least one social network site, and on average visit their home page twice a day.
Organisations associated with immigration remark that social networks have turned into a door of hope for foreign nationals, and represent a practical resource for acquiring information and help for the new arrival.
As a matter of fact, immigrants represent one of the groups which use the Internet most. There are a variety of immigration forums to be found, and social networks are teaming with the numerous groups that have been generated by these foreign communities.
Many users seek answers to their questions before they come to England and others advice, though there is also room for people to criticise and condemn. Angel Alberto Romero condemned the Columbian government’s “Return Home Plan”, claiming it created “false hope”.
All of this has contributed to an improvement in terms of foreign nationals’ social integration and adjustment, by facilitating relations between people, and hence avoiding the isolation which – in times gone by – individuals arriving in a foreign country with a different culture and language suffered from.
This became known as the ‘Ulysses Syndrome’ and the best remedy for this is to be found in the social networks. Having a conversation with and getting to know other people in the same situation as yourself is easier with the media technologies available currently.
In the case of Spain the birth of its first social network arrived with the link comunidadmigrante.com.(”immigrant community”). Its creator – the lawyer, Vicente José Marín – points out that the platform was created with the aim of “promoting reflection on and exchange of experiences across forums”.
However, the starting point for the idea came about as a result of the need to provide foreign nationals with easier access to legal information that affected them. Over the years he has consolidated this project, including more features and has introduced two even more specialised new platforms: extranjerossinpapeles.com (”foreign nationals without papers”) and parainmigrantes.info (“for immigrants”).
In the U.S, the businessman Brian Nguah has created his own site with “ImmiLounge.com”, an information network which has been greatly welcomed by the United States’ Latin American community.
Rahap Harfoush, an expert in digital innovation has also confirmed that new communication platforms offer members of the public the possibility of “inventing and reinventing the world around us”,
He offers as examples of this argument, the huge impact that social networks have had on recent groundswell movements involving the mobilisations of thousands of people at a single gathering point, such as in the cases of the Arab Spring and the student demonstrations in Chile – as well as in other places across the world such as in London.
(Translated by Nigel Conibear – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)