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Latin Americans in the United Kingdom

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Latin Americans in the United Kingdom

For Latin Americans of British descent, see British Latin American.

Latin American migration to the United Kingdom is a phenomenon dating back to the early 19th century. However, up until the 1970s, when political and civil unrest became rife in many Latin American countries, the United Kingdom's Latin American community was not particularly large.[1] Latin Americans in the UK are now a rapidly growing group consisting of immigrants from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay and Venezuela. Large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers came to the UK during the late 20th century, however since the turn of the millennium, Latin Americans have been migrating to the UK for a wide range of reasons and at present the community consists of people from all walks of life.[2] The UK is also home to British-born people of Latin American ancestry, as well as some Hispanic and Latino Americans.

History and settlement

Early presence of political figures

Latin Americans have inhabited what is now the United Kingdom for centuries, albeit in much smaller numbers than there are currently.[1] The earliest migrants date back to the late 18th century/ early 19th century, these were politicians and writers who were living largely in London in hope of raising funds for weapons to help free Latin America from Spanish and Portuguese rule.[1] The reason for London being a prime choice for such individuals to temporarily reside in is that Britain was quite happy to support them and see the Spanish Empire weaken as the British Empire continued to grow across the world.[1] Simón Bolívar who played a key role in the Spanish American war of independence visited London for six months in 1810 as leader of a diplomatic mission.[1] Bolívar's forerunner Venezuelan-born Francisco de Miranda spent fourteen years of his life as a political exile in the British capital, originally a member of the Spanish Navy he made a decision to help free Latin America after witnessing the American War of Independence.[1] de Miranda was a close ally of British Prime Minister William Pitt, and after several meetings between the two Pitt pledged money from the British government to help Latin America in their war of independence.[1] Within a matter of years many Latin American countries gained independence and many Latin American political figures remained in London in a bid to search for loans to aid the development of their respective new nations.[1] It wasn't only political figures who took advantage of London's welcoming and safe environment, many Latin American writers who would most likely have been executed or imprisoned for their work in their native lands, published their work in the UK, good examples of this being Brazilian, Hippolyto da Costa and Colombian, Garcia del Rio.[1]

Exiles and refugees after 1970

The first significant and large wave of migration from Latin America to the United Kingdom occurred in the 1970s; the Immigration Act 1971 was just one factor that acted as a catalyst for this phenomenon.[3] Prior to 1971, there were strict rules in place that only allowed residents of current or former British overseas territories and colonies to be granted work permits etc. in the mainland UK.[3] This change in legislation made it much easier for Latin Americans and other such groups to gain a right to live and work in the UK.[3] From this point onwards, the Latin American community in the UK began to grow with the arrival of migrant workers and refugees escaping oppressive political regimes.[3] Some 2,500 exiles from Chile were the first large group of Latin American migrants to the UK when they settled in London in the early 1970s; they consisted of businessmen, professors, and students who had fled their home country due to the ongoing political instability.[4] Exiles included right wingers fleeing the rule of Salvador Allende and later leftists fleeing the Pinochet regime.[3][4] Chile wasn't the only source of Latin American refugees in the 1970s and late 20th century in general, many individuals from the likes of Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador also requested the right for asylum in the UK. Argentina's military government (National Reorganization Process) which remained in power between 1976 to 1983 was another major push factor which contributed to large-scale Latin American refugee migration to the UK.[3] Colombians are the largest Hispanic Latin American group in the UK and they have been arriving in the thousands since the 1970s;[5] most came between 1986 and 1997 after they were forced from their homes due to guerrilla and paramilitary violence in Colombia.[5] Through most of the 20th century, Britain was in fact the most favoured European destination for Colombian migrants and refugees, even ahead of Spain.[6] Bolivians are a fairly small Latin American refugee group in the UK; during Bolivia's spell of political instability in the late 20th century many instead chose to make a new life for themselves in the United States or other South American nations.[7] Despite this, the UK still to this day remains the second most popular destination for Bolivian migrants to Europe regardless of status.[7] Cubans, although relatively small in number, have been migrating to the UK since the early 1960s, fleeing the Communist takeover of Cuba. Most migration happened during the Freedom Flights which started in 1965 when some Cubans chose the UK as an alternative to the United States.

Economic and recent migration

Demographics and population

Unlike the United States Census, the United Kingdom Census doesn't include a category for individuals to identify as 'Latin American' and it is therefore fairly difficult to know exactly how many UK citizens or residents are of Latin American ethnic or national origin.[8] One guesstimate based on data supplied by Latin American embassies suggests that there could between 700,000 and 1,000,000 Latin Americans residing in the United Kingdom, with Brazilians and Colombians constituting the two largest subgroups.[2]

Official statistics on Latin American-born residents

According to the 2001 UK Census, 62,735 Latin Americans in the United Kingdom were born in their respective nations of origin.[9] There were also a further 1,338 people who stated their birthplace as 'South or Central America' (note not all South American countries are Latin).[9] In 2009, the Office for National Statistics estimated that the number of Brazilian-born people in the UK alone had risen to around 60,000 and the number of Colombian-born to around 22,000. Estimates for other Latin American countries were not made because the sample size did not allow for estimation of the size of smaller groups with sufficient degree of accuracy.[10]

Country of birth Population (2001 census)[9] Population (2009 estimate)[10] Corresponding article
 Brazil 15,215 60,000 Brazilians in the United Kingdom
 Colombia 12,331 22,000 Colombians in the United Kingdom
 Argentina 3,932 N/A
 Chile 3,931 N/A Chileans in the United Kingdom
 Mexico 3,849 N/A Mexicans in the United Kingdom
 Peru 3,766 N/A Peruvians in the United Kingdom
 Venezuela 3,196 N/A
 Ecuador 2,035 N/A Ecuadorians in the United Kingdom
 Bolivia 1,084 N/A Bolivians in the United Kingdom
 Cuba 1,083 N/A
 Uruguay 963 N/A
 El Salvador 595 N/A
 Dominican Republic 523 N/A
 Guatemala 499 N/A
 Paraguay 493 N/A
 Panama 492 N/A
 Honduras 420 N/A
 Costa Rica 376 N/A
 Puerto Rico 306 N/A
 Nicaragua 223 N/A

Other population estimates

A number of other estimates of the population of Latin Americans in the UK are available. A detailed analysis was undertaken in May 2011 which estimated the population to be 186,500 in the UK, of which 113,500 were in London. This figure includes irregular and second generation Latin Americans.[11] One "guesstimate" places the number of Latin American people in the UK at 700,000 to 1,000,000 — considerably more than any census figure of Latin American-born people in the UK has shown.[2] Numerous publications have investigated the subgroups of Latin Americans in the UK in great detail and have established estimates for each of these groups. Several estimates have put the figure of Brazilians in the United Kingdom at 200,000.[2][12] The number of Colombians in the United Kingdom has been in the range of 90,000[13] and 130,000[2] to 160,000.[2] Ecuadorians in the United Kingdom are another fairly large subgroup of the Latin American community in the UK, two estimates have put their population at around 70,000.[2][14] Estimates for the number of Bolivians in the United Kingdom range between 15,000 and 25,000,[15] whilst 10,000 to 15,000 people of Peruvian origin could be living in the UK.[2]

Population distribution

According to a 2005 report by the Institute for Public Policy Research, based on data from the 2001 Census, the ten census tracts with the largest South American-born populations are all in London. Hyde Park had the highest number of South Americans, followed by Vauxhall North, Kensington, Chelsea, Vauxhall South, Regent's Park, Streatham North, Hammersmith, Streatham South, Hackney South,[16] and Newham. Outside of London, the largest South American populations were to be found in Oxford, Cambridge, central Manchester, central Bristol, central Edinburgh and Milton Keynes.[17] More recently, it has been suggested that Liverpool now has the UK's largest Latin American population outside of London.[18]


Latin America is an extremely diverse region, the major ethnic groups within it include Amerindians, Whites, Half-caste, Mulattos, Blacks and Asians and this diversity is reflected in the Latin American community in the UK. The majority of Ecuadorians in the United Kingdom are mestizos of Andean origin and come from a fairly deprived background, whilst a significant number of Argentines in the UK are of White European origin and stem from wealthy families.[14] On the other hand, the presence of Black Latin Americans in the UK is evident in the form of several famous Brazilian British entertainers such as Taio Cruz[19]

Latin Americans acquiring British citizenship

The table below shows the number of Latin Americans who acquired citizenship of the United Kingdom between 1997 and 2008; sorted alphabetically.

Previous nationality 1997[20] 1998[21] 1999[22] 2000[23] 2001[24] 2002[25] 2003[26] 2004[27] 2005[28] 2006[29] 2007[30] 2008[31] Total
 Argentina 22 38 45 62 45 105 120 115 145 120 125 120 1,062
 Bolivia 11 19 28 23 30 25 35 50 50 70 75 65 481
 Brazil 119 196 178 331 340 330 435 485 565 540 610 605 4,734
 Chile 39 61 79 92 125 110 145 130 110 100 90 90 1,171
 Colombia 185 272 296 381 375 945 1,000 1,290 1,500 1,580 1,845 1,115 10,784
 Costa Rica 3 4 7 12 10 5 10 10 10 15 10 10 106
 Cuba 7 8 15 18 30 60 65 90 115 90 90 80 668
 Dominican Republic 12 13 19 17 30 55 50 65 55 35 20 35 406
 Ecuador 20 33 39 43 55 80 200 325 655 955 745 580 3,730
 El Salvador 6 9 5 13 25 15 15 15 10 10 5 15 143
 Guatemala 6 13 6 4 10 15 10 10 10 5 20 15 124
 Honduras 15 2 9 11 15 5 15 10 10 10 5 10 117
 Mexico 26 52 74 116 100 105 145 160 175 145 135 115 1,348
 Nicaragua 3 9 8 6 0 10 10 0 5 5 5 10 71
 Panama 4 8 4 7 10 10 5 10 20 10 10 25 123
 Paraguay 2 0 1 4 0 0 5 15 5 5 0 5 42
 Peru 65 78 80 117 105 185 175 180 230 130 220 170 1,735
 Uruguay 8 4 4 10 10 10 15 15 10 25 10 10 131
 Venezuela 23 40 46 49 60 65 85 95 120 105 155 120 963
Total 27,939

Culture and community

Community groups




Sport and dance



A newspaper, Noticias Latin America (NLA), was published in London from 1992 until about 2008, but the newspaper ceased publication, and the company was struck off and dissolved in 2010.[32]

Crónica Latina was probably one of the first Latin American newspapers in London, founded in 1984 by Juan Salgado, first published as Notas de Colombia before adopting the name 'Cronica Latinas' in 1986. The newspaper is no longer in circulation. [33]

Film and television


Social and political issues

Assimilation into British culture

Latin Americans residing in the UK often call themselves the "Invisibles", as a reflection of the lack of representation they have in the communities and the fact that there is no formal ethnic minority status for Latin Americans.[34] They often claim that is the lack of official recognition that makes it hard for the community to integrate.[35]

Economics and employment

85% of the Latin American community are employed, many are often in jobs they are over-qualified for, and very few take state benefits.[36] Some 70% of Latin Americans residing in the UK have some form of education beyond the secondary level, however, they are 10 times more likely to work for less than the minimum wage.[37] Often, emigrants who come to the country as lawyers or other skilled professions end up having to work in low level positions due to lack of opportunities. 40% of Latin American workers have claimed to experience workplace abuse and exploitation and 11% report being paid less than the national minimum wage – a proportion 10 times higher than the average rate for the UK population.[38]

Asylum seekers and refugees

Many Latin Americans have fled their home countries in search of safety and political asylum in the United Kingdom due to conflicts and civil wars, such as the ongoing Colombian armed conflict that began in 1964.[39][40]

Notable individuals

See also


External links

  • London Latin American Film Festival
  • Visit London - Latin American section
  • History of Latin Americans in the UK
  • Reassessing what we collect website – Central and South American London (History of Central and South American London with objects and images)

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