How Brexit Will Affect Venezuela and the Rest of Latin America

Many Venezuelans say they will stay in the UK illegally if voters approve the Brexit referendum. (public domain)

The referendum that will determine whether the United Kingdom stays or leaves the European Union is set to occur Thursday, June 23rd, and looks to be one of the closest in recent memory.

Through mid June, it looked as though the Leave campaign, who support limits on immigration, would stay the frontrunner, but after the murder of Labour Parliament Member Jo Cox at the hands of an extremist who yelled, “death to traitors, freedom for Britain,” the polls quickly shifted into the favor of the Remain Party.

Politicians on the Leave campaign argue that fees paid to the European Union (EU) each year could be put to better use. Many of them want the UK to return to being an independent entity that does not answer to external institutions and with better-control its own borders.

The issue of immigration has become the centerpiece of the debate. The general attitude of the Leave campaign seems rooted most strongly in its sense of nationalism and less in any sort of practical public policy stance. A general distaste toward immigrants hovers in the air of London, causing many UK citizens to become upset when those looking to escape the poor conditions of their own country come to live where the quality of life is so much higher.

An alarming amount of Latin American expats choose to move to Europe given longstanding cultural ties harking back to colonial days. Also mass european immigration to Latin America during the 20th Century has allowed their descendants, numbering in millions, to posses dual citizenship. This makes their search for better opportunities significantly easier.

We see this particularly in countries like Argentina, where there was a massive influx of Italians between 1857 and 1940, which resulted in about 44 percent of the country’s total population being of Italian descent. In Venezuela, about 61 percent of citizens have some sort of European ancestry, which can be attributed to Venezuela’s rich economic history and oil booms that attracted investors and immigrants from around the world.

Currently, Venezuela is going through the biggest crisis in its history. Its people are literally starving to death, leading the already fear-crippling insecurity to rise to unimaginable levels. The lack of medical supplies is also a huge concern. Starvation and low quality of life have led to astounding levels of migration. Many Venezuelans make claim on their European nationalities and migrate to Europe. Though Spain is a popular choice to the language, the country’s economic situation has led some to pursue a life in the UK.

In London, a massive community of Venezuelans, with dual Spanish, Italian or Portuguese citizenship, have entered the food service industry, specifically London’s famous street food carts. Portobello Road in Notting Hill or the food market in Lyric square, or any sort of food festival is normally filled with Venezuelan accents from those working the food carts.

On average, a server at a food market can make anywhere between GBP  £7 to 8 per hour. ays usually begin at 10 in the morning when set up begins, and end at around 5 in the afternoon, leaving most people with around GBP £56 a day. Usually, workers only put in three days a week, leaving them with GBP £672 a month or GBP £8,064 a year — far more than they would ever earn in Venezuela, but much less than it takes to live comfortably in an expensive city like London. If the UK were to leave the EU, it would take at least GBP £30,000 a year to obtain a work permit, something these people obviously would not be able to do.

Living in London on GBP $600 a month would require them to at least share a very small apartment with three other people in a relatively unsafe area without any financial room to save, while trying to avoid extra costs.

Many have abandoned their pursuit of a university degree back home and come from much more comfortable living arrangements than what they currently are experiencing, but they all know that it is far better than what they would have had in Venezuela.

“I don’t have to worry about being mugged after leaving class in the afternoon or being able to find simple things like ibuprofen or toothpaste when I need it. I don’t care if I have to live with four other strangers, because at least it is a life — at least I am living,” said one Venezuelan girl who said she dropped out of her university program, but chose to go unnamed for this story.

She said she often works at a burger stall owned by a European couple.

“I don’t care that I don’t have almost anything else; I have my life here,” she said, “and I feared for it back home.”

She said she wouldn’t care if the UK voted to leave the EU, because she is not going back to her old life.

“I would stay here illegally if I had to,” she said, a statement that many young Venezuelans echoed.

Lucky for her, if the UK were to choose to leave the EU, the negotiations would take around two years to complete, giving people enough time to look for other options.

Many UK citizens still do not seem to understand how pivotal migrants are to the UK’s national identity. Notting Hill is one of London’s most important tourist attractions, known for its quaint pop-up shops and delicious food markets, most of which are owned and run by immigrants. You don’t go to the Acklam Village market in Notting Hill for fish and chips, you go there to eat the best fries in the city, an amazing Vietnamese bahn mi sandwich, or to choose from one of three arepa stalls.

If one of the main reasons UK citizens want to leave the EU is a fervor of British nationalism, then they have got it all wrong. The UK used to be a large empire that welcomed many cultures, so what they think is British “culture” is rife with what immigrants from all over the world have brought to the table.

Yes, the reason why the Brexit would negatively affect Latin Americans such as Colombians or Argentines is the reason why many wish it to happen, but one needs to consider what would happen without them.

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