To the polls in the UK

brasilobserver - Feb 22 2015
Old-fashioned: no voting machine like in Brazil

(Leia em Português)

Brazilians with British citizenship prepare to exercise their right to vote in May’s general election; fierce debate on immigration has little effect on the Brazilian community

By Guilherme Reis

2015 begins with a political atmosphere in the UK. The general election of 7 May means that a new British Parliament will soon be elected and, from it, a new government will be formed and indicate who will be the Prime Minister until 2020.

Given the discussion on how this new government will look like – probably formed by a coalition, as none of the two major parties (Conservative and Labour) seems able to win an overall majority of the 650 seats in the House of Commons – most of Brazilians living in the UK follow the progress of debates without direct power to interfere. But there are those who may exercise their right to vote.

Anyone who is over 18 and was born in a Commonwealth country or the Republic of Ireland and now has residency in the UK is eligible to vote in the UK’s general election. People who were born overseas but have become British citizens also qualify. The large number of people who have arrived in the UK from EU countries in the past decade cannot vote unless they have already acquired British citizenship.

No one knows for sure how many naturalized Brazilian will attend to the polls in May, as the vote in the UK is not an obligation and there are no statistics on the number of people who fit this profile. But according to information obtained by the Brasil Observer with the Home Office, between 1990 and 2013 about 10,500 Brazilians were naturalized or registered as British citizens. This does not mean that everyone is entitled to vote, because many of them may not live in the UK anymore, but it is the most relevant indicator available.

Anyway, it is a small part of the size of the Brazilian community in Britain. An estimate by the Embassy of Brazil in London points out that 137,000 Brazilians live in the UK. For the Casa do Brasil association, which provides a range of services to the Brazilian community, the actual number may be much higher: about 300,000.

The determining factor for the number of Brazilians living in the country is underestimated is that many have dual nationality and enter the UK using passport of European countries, so they are not counted as Brazilians. Another factor that contributes to this is those who might be here illegally.


Brasil Observer spoke with eight Brazilians who, as British citizens, prepare to vote in May. On average, these voters are 48 years old, live in the UK for 15 years and already voted at least twice in the country – whether local or national election. Four of them said they had not yet defined who to vote for; two declared vote in the Labour Party; Green and Liberal Democrat had the preference of one respondent each.

Unlike Brazil, where there is a direct vote for president, Brits vote to elect Members of Parliament. The UK is divided into 650 electoral districts, and in the general election the candidate who receives a majority of votes in each goes to the House of Commons.

To form a majority government, a party must win in 326 districts. If there is no absolute majority, two or more parties should join to form a coalition government, like the current one, with the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties. There is also the possibility of forming a minority government, and if there is no agreement between the parties the Parliament is dissolved again for a new general election.

The prime minister is the leader of the party that won most of the seats, or the leader of the largest party in a coalition. Based on surveys of voting intentions, the next will probably be current Prime Minister David Cameron (Conservative) or Ed Miliband (Labour).

“Both in Brazil and here, I try to vote taking into account what I consider best for the country at the time the election is held, based on the information available,” said the journalist Maria Eduarda Lafetá Johnston, voting in Sutton and Cheam district, represented by the Liberal Democrat Paul Burstow. For Maria Eduarda, “the economy is one of my priorities, but also social programs, schools and hospitals.”

Luiz Carlos Chagas, cultural project manager at the Embassy of Brazil in London, votes in the district of Greenwich and Woolwich, which since 1997 is represented by the Labour Member of Parliament Nick Raysnford. “I take into account the policy proposals that have direct relevance to the area I live in London, and the possible benefits for workers, whether they are immigrants or not,” said Luiz Carlos.

For the couple Ivanclei de Oliveira and Luciane Freitas da Silva Oliveira, who vote for Birmingham Edgbaston, represented by Labour’s Gisela Stuart, the candidate values of life have decisive weight, and position on immigration. “Foreign vote became a weapon and a good group to be conquered by politicians,” said Ivanclei.


All voters heard by Brasil Observer were contrary to the anti-immigration discourse that took over the British news because of the rise of UKIP, a far-right party which advocates, among other things, the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

This is a debate that Brazilians, as part of an immigrant community, have to follow even without the right to vote. That’s the opinion of the counsellor of intern policy at the Embassy of Brazil in London, Jão Marcos Paes Leme, who ensures, however, that “the debate on immigration has little effect on the Brazilian community in the UK.”

According to Paes Leme, the British authorities don’t have a specific purpose for controlling the entry of Brazilians. “The biggest problem for the UK – if it really is a problem – is that as a member of the European Union it should welcome any citizen of the block. There is nothing to stop a citizen of the European Union to move here. This puts pressure on the country’s infrastructure, transport, social benefits, etc. And generates a domestic debate. The main parties respond differently to this pressure. Some say clearly, as liberals, this is a good thing for the economy. But this concern is primarily with European citizens, so that there is a debate to leave the European Union. But even the most radical say even to leave the European Union, those who are already here have nothing to fear,” he said.

Executive director of London Help 4U, Francine Mendonça has a similar opinion. “Many British bother with the immigrant vote and also with foreigners generally. But there are many Brits who also appreciate the vote of foreigners, because the foreigners who are building a different England, with more flavours, cultures and colours. I don’t think the immigration debate will lead the UK to take a different action in relation to the entry visa for Brazilians”, she said.

The facts show that the vast majority of Brazilians arrive in the UK with a good standing – whether it is with documents required to enter as a tourist (up to six months) or with any specific British visa.

From 2003 to 2013, the number of Brazilian tourists who came to the UK grew 360%. In 2013, the last year recorded by Visit Britain, 257,000 tourists from Brazil visited England, Scotland and Wales. These travellers have left 277 million pounds. Brazil is 23rd in number of tourists and 20th in the ranking of visitors who spend more.

According to the Embassy of Brazil in London, from July 2013 to June 2014, there were 932 refusals of Brazilians in the UK – when they are refused entry and sent back to Brazil. This number is less than half that recorded in 2010, when 2,110 were rejected. Regarding the deportations, there was a decrease of 765 in 2010 to 190 in 2014.

Regarding British visas for Brazilians, almost 100% is study visa, according to the Home Office. From October 2013 to September 2014, 2,316 visas were issued, an increase of 42% over the previous year. Of these, 2,232 were for students, an increase of 70% over the same period between 2012 and 2013. As a result, Brazil is second place in the ranking of countries for which it was granted the highest number of student visas by the UK. First was China, with 2,286.

This increased happened, in large part, by the success of the Brazilian federal government program Science Without Borders – the UK is the second most popular destination, just behind the US.


Migrant electorate will be crucial, study shows

Among the countries of origin of migrants’ voters in the UK, the first two are India (615,000) and Pakistan 431,000)

Among the countries of origin of migrants’ voters in the UK, the first two are India (615,000) and Pakistan 431,000)

A research paper co-authored by the University of Manchester and Migrants Rights Network says that the migrant electorate will be a crucial constituency in the 2015 election. The briefing provides the latest analysis of migrant voters in England and Wales, and considers their potential impact at the next election. It finds that around one voter in every ten eligible to vote in 2015 will be a migrant voter, and many more will be the children of migrants. At least 70 marginal seats in 2015 could have significant cohorts of migrant voters, and this group could prove decisive in a small number of seats. The paper advocates a measured message on immigration in the run-up to 2015, in order to avoid alienation of migrant voters into the future.

Key findings:

  • Almost 4 million people in England and Wales who were born overseas will be eligible to vote in May, compared with just under 3.5 million at the 2010 general election.
  • Two seats – East Ham and Brent North – are predicted to be the first constituencies with a majority of the eligible electorate born abroad. In a further 25 seats they will constitute more than a third of the electorate and at least a quarter in another 50 seats.
  • Most of these voters are highly concentrated in inner-city seats in London and the West Midlands and could hold the balance of power in several marginals.
  • The voters come from former Commonwealth countries or the Republic of Ireland, or have become British citizens after living in the UK for five or more years.

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