An Unknown Quantity? London’s Ibero-Latino Population:

How many Latin Americans are there in the UK at the moment? What do they do?  How long do they stay? The Home Office doesn’t seem to know for sure and nor does the Latino community itself. A conference recently took place at  the Venezuelan Embassy’s Bolivar Hall in central London with the objective of providing answers to at least some of these questions. The two main speakers were Dr Pablo Mateos (Lecturer in Human Geography, University College, London) and Dr Cathy McIlwaine (Reader in Human Geography, Queen Mary, University of London), both of whom have conducted intensive  and continuing research into the geo–demographic distribution of Ibero-Latinos across the country – especially in London, where the majority of them are located. Though they provided a welter of statistics, they also emphasized that their estimates were either “volatile” or “preliminary” and required considerable further investigation. Dr Mateos’ calculations included residents of Portuguese and Spanish descent, whose numbers have increased by 129% and 27% respectively since 2001 according to an  Office Of National Statistics (ONS)  2009 report. In accompanying documentation, he pointed out that figures based solely on country of origin or nationality could however be misleading: “For example, in 2003 about 55% of immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean had British citizenship and  40% of 215 Colombians recently interviewed in London had European Union passports even though they had all been born in Colombia.” 

Among the ‘known facts’ displayed on his charts were the 226,800 people with Iberoamerican nationality who obtained a National Insurance Number between 2002 and 2008. Of these, 68,950 (30%) were Latin American. This does not mean that all of them have permanent or secure jobs. The Labour Force Survey 2009 revealed that  just 57,024 were officially employed in Britain between April and June of this year, the largest numbers being from Brazil (24,343), Mexico (9,707) and Colombia ( 7,507). There appears to be a notable discrepancy between this figure and Home Office –UK Border data indicating that there were 573,010 arrivals from the region in 2008,including 26,115 students, 380,030 visitors and 148,580 migrants. Residents accounted for 130,580 and 3,660 had been granted work permits. All the available evidence, concluded Dr. Mateos , suggests that there is “ a minimum of 402,083 people of Iberoamerican birth currently resident in the UK,of whom approximately 50% are Latin Americans (200,000).”

Dr McIlwaine’s presentation featured the principal elements of an ongoing project funded by the City Parochial Foundation and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service . This has focused mainly on Spanish and Portuguese-speaking people from Latin America, including Cuba and the Dominican Republic. It thus excludes “Guyana, Surinam, French Guiana, Haiti, Jamaica, the other Caribbean islands as well as those born in Spain or Portugal”. She acknowledged from the outset that there are “significant difficulties” in surmising the numbers of Latin Americans in the UK – mainly due to the high proportion of “irregular residents” and “their invisibility as a population” in London. Compiling accurate statistics is complicated “ by the fact that Latin Americans also have a range of dual European nationalities, mostly commonly Spanish, Portuguese and Italian”. Information derived from the International Passenger survey showed that Latin American ‘IN Visitors’ between 2001-2008 totalled 3.1 million over that period: “Even if 10% or 13% of these became visitor switchers, there could be a hidden / irregular 300,000 –400,000 Latin Americans in the UK” for those years. “These parameters swamp the 130,000 APS (Annual Population Census) 2008 estimates”.

Many of the details she provided confirmed what has become evident to most observant London inhabitants: Brazilians are the highest nationality group ( 25.5%), followed by Colombians (23.5%), Ecuadorians (15.8%), Bolivians (13.8%), Peruvians (9.5%) and Venezuelans (3.2%). Although Latin Americans began to arrive in the 1970’s, the big influx was from 2000 onwards. They tend to be aged between 20 –39 and though they are dispersed throughout the city “there are concentrations in Southwark (20.9%), Lambeth (18.5%), Islington (7.9%) and Haringey (6.6%). As regards their current immigration status: 22.6% have an EU and 19.7% a British passport. Those with a valid student visa (10.2%); Work Permit (2.7%); Indefinite Leave to Remain (13.4%). Brazilians, Bolivians and Peruvians comprise a large part of the 17% who have no valid documents. Colombians are the most likely to be British citizens. 47% of Britain’s Latin Americans earn less than £1000 per month but 5% have an income of over £3000 per month.  Dr McIlwaine accepted that the data is “elusive”. Nonetheless, it is abundantly clear that London’s Latin American population “is growing, becoming more economically active and is less likely to be unemployed”. The audience went on its way just a little wiser.








Filed under: Immigration & Visas | Posted on October 13th, 2009 by Colin D Gordon

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