Colombians in the united kingdom

Colombians in the United Kingdom

Total population
Colombian-born residents
12,331 (2001 Census figure)
22,000 (2009 ONS estimate)
Other population estimates
90,000 (Migration Policy Institute 2003 estimate)
130,000 - 160,000 (untoldLondon 2006 estimate)
Regions with significant populations
London (Lambeth, Islington, Southwark, Camden· Sunderland · Leeds · Newcastle
Colombian Spanish · British English
Roman Catholicism
Related ethnic groups
Colombian diaspora · Colombian people · Latin Americans in the United Kingdom · Spaniards in the United Kingdom · Brazilians in the United Kingdom · Portuguese in the United Kingdom · Hispanic · Latino

Colombians in the United Kingdom (Spanish: Colombianos en el Reino Unido) include British citizens or residents who are of Colombian ancestry. The Colombian-born population was 12,331 according to the 2001 UK Census,[1] although unofficial estimates now place the total number of people of Colombian ancestry at between 90,000[2] and 200,000.[3] Colombians constitute the UK's second largest Latin American group, and on a global scale the community ranks as the world's fourth largest overseas Colombian population.


Latin American migration to Europe has been growing rapidly since the mid-1960s. The first migrants consisted of Chilean and Argentine refugees, these were followed by Colombians and many other Latin American groups in the early 1970s.[4] Many Colombians came to work in the UK on visas mainly in the domestic services and catering industries, however as many visas began to run out, many Colombians remained illegally in the UK,[5] by the early 1990s some 80,000 Latin Americans were residing in London, with the majority being Colombian. Colombians in the UK tend to originate from the country's urban areas such as Bogota, Cali, Medellin and Palmira, although some come from the smaller towns and countryside. There are roughly three stages of Colombian migration to the UK,[5] between 1975 and 1979 many came under the work permit system to take up jobs in low pay domestic services predominantly. Between 1980 and 1986 many relatives and families of the early settlers came to the UK, many of them soon became illegal immigrants due to themselves overstaying their visas. Another stage where significant numbers of asylum seekers came to the UK was between 1986 and 1997 when thousands came to the UK due to guerrilla and paramilitary violence in Colombia.[5] This is the period where the largest number of Colombians came to the UK, although significant numbers are still migrating today as the Colombian British population expands into its second generation.[6] Historically, the United Kingdom has, in fact, proven the most popular European destination for Colombian migrants despite the lack of historical links that are evident with Spain.[7] Spain alongside several other European nations has formerly been dubbed a "reservoir of migrant labour".[7] However since the turn of the millennium, Spain has become a key destination within Europe for Colombian migrants and is now home to the largest Colombian community in the continent, followed by that of the United Kingdom.[7]


The 2001 Census recorded 12,331 Colombian-born people living in the UK.[1] The Office for National Statistics estimates that in 2009, 22,000 Colombian-born people were residing in the UK.[8] According to one estimate, Colombians now make up the second largest sub-group of Latin American Britons behind Brazilian Britons, numbering up to 160,000.[3] An article published by the Migration Policy Institute estimates the Colombian population in the UK to be 90,000 as of 2003.[2] The overwhelming majority of Colombians in the UK live in London, although within the capital they are fairly well dispersed. Despite this, the largest numbers can be found in the boroughs of Lambeth, Islington, Southwark and Camden.[7] Outside of London, concentrations of Colombians can also be found in the Northern English cities of Sunderland, Leeds and Newcastle.[6]

Number of Colombians granted British citizenship (1997–2007)
(Figures since 2001 are rounded to the nearest five)
Year 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Number 185[9] 272[10] 296[11] 381[12] 375[13] 945[14] 1,000[15] 1,290[16] 1,500[17] 1,580[18] 1,845[19]

Asylum seekers

Applications for asylum from Colombians in the UK started to rise in 1996, peaked in 1997 and has been falling since then (with the exception of 1999 which saw a sharp increase). The sudden rise in asylum applications between 1996 and 1997 could have been linked to paramilitary and guerrilla violence in Colombia. Also the sharp drop in applications in 1998 could be associated with the introduction of visa restrictions. After the increase in 1999, the start of the 21st century has seen a more or less stable number of applications by Colombians for asylum.[6] The table below is a breakdown for applications received for asylum in the UK between 1993 and 2002.[6]
Number of applications by Colombians for asylum in the United Kingdom (1993–2003)
(All figures are rounded to the nearest five)
Year 1993[20] 1994[20] 1995[20] 1996[20] 1997[20] 1998[20] 1999[20] 2000[20] 2001[20] 2002[21] 2003
Number of applications 380 405 525 1,005 1,330 425 1,000 505 360 420 220
Number recognised as refugees 5 5 <5 10 20 150 5 60 40 45 15
Number granted exceptional leave 10 15 5 5 25 60 5 60 55 20 5
Number refused asylum 80 390 210 365 380 810 155 1,755 660 415 315

Region wise, the regions with the most Colombian asylum seekers on support in 2001 were London, North East England and North West England respectively.[20]


Colombians on London's South Bank celebrating Colombian independence day


Colombian culture and cultural activities in the UK are virtually non-existent compared to places such as New York.[22] This is due to the United States having a much larger Colombian community, as well as stronger links between the two countries. The few Colombian events that occur across the country are music festivals (usually in the summer). Many popular Colombian artists and musicians come to the UK to play in these festivals.[6] The British capital, London is home to several Colombian clubs, restaurants and cafes[23] as well as many shops and independent businesses, there is also a significant presence of Colombian media in the UK, consisting mainly of a few newspapers and radio stations. A similarity between Colombia and the United Kingdom is that football is an extremely popular sport in both countries; this easily helps link communities and today many Colombians play in the Latin American leagues of London as well as for local teams.[6] Despite this, some of these activities are seen more as entrepreneurial than cultural activities. Besides Colombian football and music in the UK, the other aspect that contributes to the culture of Colombians in the UK is food. Sancocho is a traditional Colombian dish that has become popular in mainstream London and to an extent British culture. Colombian students who are studying in the UK often organise events that mainly involve debates and conferences about the situation back home in their native Colombia.[6][24]


Country of birth New immigrants
Settled immigrants
Average employed
United Kingdom N/A N/A 73.49%
Brazil 57.38% 80.70% 69.04%
Canada 82.76% 78.12% 80.44%
Colombia 49.96% 66.48% 58.22%
Jamaica 54.41% 65.21% 59.81%
United States 68.08% 76.05% 72.02%

Many new Colombian immigrants including asylum seekers and refugees in the UK find finding work extremely difficult, it has become increasingly complicated over time to gain visas and working permits in the UK and there is also the likely chance of a claim for asylum being denied. Despite this, there are hundreds if not thousands of new Colombian immigrants to the UK per annum, with the vast majority of these having little knowledge of the English language at all. This makes it hard to gain access to public services and ultimately more complicated to get a job, language skills are extremely important, and if Spanish is the only language spoken by and individual, they are bound to be beaten to the post by a fluent or more conversational English speaker. As stated earlier many new immigrants work in minimum wage jobs such as in domestic service and catering industries. Lack of English skills is also a negative aspect for Colombians in the UK outside of the world of work, for example it may be hard to gain required information from local councils as well as legal advice. As a response to this many new Latin American set up groups have been founded in London to help Colombians and other Hispanics to improve their language skills and/or find work.[6] According to Institute for Public Policy Research findings, 49.96 per cent of new Colombian immigrants in Great Britain are employed, compared to 66.48 per cent of settled Colombian immigrants.[25]


Housing is often identified as one of the main problems facing new Colombian immigrants and asylum seekers to the UK. A study of the housing situation of these people carried out in 1995 highlighted the problems of homelessness and poor housing. The situation is worst for single people, but also affects families. No studies have yet been performed to determine the housing trends of settled Colombian immigrants and second generation British born people of Colombian descent.[26]

Social issues

Many Colombians come to the UK as asylum seekers, and in certain circumstances it can be hard for them to integrate, especially since the lack of Colombian culture and influence in the UK can be all too obvious.[6] In June 2000, there were 118 Colombian nationals imprisoned in the UK (103 male and 15 female);[27] many of them are involved in the Colombian drug trade (the UK is one of the largest buyers of Colombian cocaine, millions of hectares of rainforest are being destroyed each year in Colombia to supply drug users in countries such as the UK. Drug mules are also a problem, with many Colombians risking their lives by transporting drugs inside of them to get into the UK[28]). This is the largest number of foreign nationals in British prisons originating anywhere in the Americas, although in comparison to the number of certain foreign nationals from Europe, Asia, Africa and elsewhere it is fairly small.[27] As the Colombian British population grows larger, so do the problems within the community; it is believed that the differences within the community are now more visible and unity is less evident. Many of these differences mirror situations in Colombia where differences in social class, political views and immigration status all contribute to an ever fragmenting community. The most obvious difference seems to be between those who immigrated between 1970 and the early 1990s when political persecution was more evident, whilst more recent immigrants (particularly asylum seekers) have had greater difficulty in proving their status as political refugees, partly down to the current complicated situation in Colombia. Out of a survey of several Colombians in London, the majority stated their frustration with the overall Colombian British community when it comes to organising cultural events, since attendance can often be very poor. The perception is that settled Colombian Brits are too busy working and to an extent lose their political awareness and interests of Colombian culture in the UK and at home in Colombia.[6]

Notable individuals

Several Colombian immigrants to the UK as well as British born people of Colombian descent have gained notable success, some examples are listed here. Jorge Castano is a Cali born professional wrestler who has made a new life and career for himself in the UK,[29] Fernando Montano is the first Colombian to dance with the Royal Ballet and has been a member of the company since 2006, Phil Manzanera a musician and record producer who was the lead guitarist with Roxy Music was born in London to a Colombian mother and English father.[30] Luis Lopez, a young entrepreneur/model currently residing in London. Colombian American journalist, Sonia Uribe studied in and now lives in London.[31] José Fernández Madrid was a former ambassador to the UK for Colombia who lived in the UK for a number of years where he subsequently died.[32] Another notable expatriate in the UK of Colombian origin is Australian actor Adam Garcia who has found fame in many US and British films.[33] Also Colombian born Carolina Herrera holds a surgical post in London, where she resides although she is more famed for her music.[34] In 2010 Miss Great Britain winner Tara Hoyos-Martínez of Colombian parentage became the first Latina to represent the country in the global Miss Universe pageant.[35]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Country-of-birth database". Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  2. ^ a b Bérubé, Myriam (November 2005). "Colombia: In the crossfire". Migration Information Source. Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  3. ^ a b Sofia Buchuck. "Crossing borders: Latin American exiles in London". untoldLondon. Retrieved 2008-04-12. 
  4. ^ "Migrant Workers in the United Kingdom and Europe". Pizarro, R., Maldonado, C. and Esward, T. Retrieved 2009-02-18. 
  5. ^ a b c "Colombian community in London". Open Channels. Retrieved 2009-02-18. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Profile of the Colombian population in the UK". ICAR. Retrieved 2009-02-16. 
  7. ^ a b c d "Colombian migration to Europe". Centre on Migration, Policy and Society. Retrieved 2010-07-28. 
  8. ^ "Estimated population resident in the United Kingdom, by foreign country of birth (Table 1.3)". Office for National Statistics. September 2009. Retrieved 8 July 2010. 
  9. ^ "Persons Granted British Citizenship, United Kingdom, 1997". Home Office. Retrieved 27 July 2010. 
  10. ^ "Persons Granted British Citizenship, United Kingdom, 1998". Home Office. Retrieved 27 July 2010. 
  11. ^ "Persons Granted British Citizenship, United Kingdom, 1999". Home Office. Retrieved 27 July 2010. 
  12. ^ "Persons Granted British Citizenship, United Kingdom, 2000". Home Office. Retrieved 27 July 2010. 
  13. ^ "Persons Granted British Citizenship, United Kingdom, 2001". Home Office. Retrieved 27 July 2010. 
  14. ^ "Persons Granted British Citizenship, United Kingdom, 2002". Home Office. Retrieved 27 July 2010. 
  15. ^ "Persons Granted British Citizenship, United Kingdom, 2003". Home Office. Retrieved 27 July 2010. 
  16. ^ "Persons Granted British Citizenship, United Kingdom, 2004". Home Office. Retrieved 27 July 2010. 
  17. ^ "Persons Granted British Citizenship, United Kingdom, 2005". Home Office. Retrieved 27 July 2010. 
  18. ^ "Persons Granted British Citizenship, United Kingdom, 2006". Home Office. Retrieved 27 July 2010. 
  19. ^ "Persons Granted British Citizenship, United Kingdom, 2007". Home Office. Retrieved 27 July 2010. 
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Asylum Statistics United Kingdom 2001". Home Office. Retrieved 2009-02-18. 
  21. ^ "Asylum Statistics United Kingdom 2003". Home Office. Retrieved 2010-07-28. 
  22. ^ "Mistrust, Fragmented Solidarity, and Transnational Migration: Colombians in New York City and Los Angeles". Guarnizo, L.E. et al. Retrieved 2009-02-20. 
  23. ^ Colombian eateries in the capital
  24. ^ Colombian Student Events, Example of Sheffield University
  25. ^ Born Abroad Economics
  26. ^ "The Housing Situation of Latin American Refugees Living in London". CARILA. Retrieved 2009-02-20. 
  27. ^ a b "Prison statistics, England and Wales 2000". Home Office. Retrieved 2009-02-20. 
  28. ^ "'"UK drug users 'damaging Colombia. BBC. 2008-11-18. Retrieved 2009-02-20. 
  29. ^ Jorge Castano
  30. ^ Phil Manzanera
  31. ^ Sonia Uribe
  32. ^ José Fernández Madrid
  33. ^ Adam Garcia
  34. ^ Carolina Herrera
  35. ^ Tara Hoyos-Martinez
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