New Immigration Regulations: The implications for Latin Americans in the UK

All Latin Americans currently living in the UK and most of those thinking of coming here to study or work (or both) will be aware by now that Home Office immigration regulations are already much stricter than  four years ago. The entry of Poland & the other nine ‘Accession Countries’ into the European Union on May 1st 2004 and the subsequent influx of ‘migrant workers’ from Central Europe has undoubtedly been a factor – but Home Office policy had started to change even before then. In August 2003 (for the first time) charges were introduced for any non-EU students applying for an extension of stay in the UK. These were moderate at first,but have since been increased to £295 by post and £500 in person at Lunar House in Croydon.

The imminent introduction of the ‘Points-Based System’ (PSB) is going to make it even tougher to get into this country. The Home Office is not at all coy about specifying their reasons. Their objective is ‘to ensure that only those who benefit Britain can come here to work or study.” This represents  a total (& for many British people,rather uncomfortable) transformation from the welcoming attitudes of the mid ‘1970’s, when I  first got involved with London’s growing Latin American community in my roles as Owner/Principal of London Study Centre (which I have recently left) and the folklore band ‘Bahareque’ (which continues). The main arrivals then,of course,were the Chilean exiles from the Pinochet regime. They came to live & work rather than enrol at English Language Schools. For many (particularly their children) the UK became their home. I can recall performing frequently at Chile Solidarity events (much to the displeasure of the Chilean Embassy).

The next wave was from Argentina,Mexico,Ecuador,Venezuela,Peru & Colombia. It has been my impression over the intervening years that students from the last two countries have encountered more difficulty in obtaining visas than their other Latin American counterparts. Immigration officials at the British Embassy in Bogota appear sometimes to apply their own requirement of at least 20 hours per week enrolment at an Accredited College instead of the Home Office minimum of 15. There have been signs recently that the Colombian community in London has diminished slightly (for a range of reasons,not just visa issues ) & been overtaken in numbers by the Brazilians –who themselves report that  British Embassy officials in their country  now conjuring up a plethora of bureaucratic obstacles for anyone there even contemplating an EFL course in the UK. In such a large country,that can prove a massive disincentive.

According to Home Office statistics,they received 7768 student visa applications in 2004/5 of which 1371 were not granted: ie: a refusal rate of 17.6%. This percentage seems likely to increase substantially under the new system. The Home Office purports (not entirely convincingly) that this will in practice also benefit the students: they wil be able to assess their chances in advance & so not waste their money on ‘unsuccessful applications’.Yet  they (grudgingly) acknowledge that ‘the current income generated to the UK as a whole from international students through their fees & additional spending is estimated at over £5bn’ A large part of this will obviously be lost if far fewer students are allowed in.

Whatever happens,at least the Home Office can’t (even if it tries) unravel the tremendous Latin American contribution to London life. As an Anglo afficionado of Latin culture,it is impossible to imagine the capital now without arepas,empanadas,sancocho de gallina – and salsa.

Filed under: Immigration & Visas | Posted on May 1st, 2007 by Colin D Gordon

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