It’s Tough Being Brazilian in the UK

     It's Tough Being Brazilian in the 

    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.
    by: Guy

    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

    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

    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

    So common was it to find
    Brazilians in Bayswater that according to Brazzil’s 1996 article on
    emigration – – 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

    "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,

    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
    He can be contacted at

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