How the demographic of South Africans living in the UK has changed over the last decade
02 Jan, 2015 – Sandi Durnford-Slater – The South African
If you’re reading this in the UK, you are probably sitting on a bus or tube in London, or you may be out in the countryside. Perhaps you are reading online from the comfort of your newly purchased home in Woking, Twickenham or the Slough, having taken advantage of the stamp duty reduction?
Likely you’re sipping a hot mug of Rooibos, dipping a rusk and pondering your own story. How did you get here? Why did you stay? What were the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors for leaving South Africa and coming to the UK?
“The UK has a lot to offer. It’s a safe environment and there are lots of opportunities. Coming from South Africa, the crime was a genuine push factor,” says Marilu, living in Molsey. She and her husband arrived in the UK seven years ago on Ancestral visas and naturalised this year.
TheSouthAfrican.com has a readership of 380 000 per month. Among the South African readers, many were in the UK when the site launched just over a decade ago in 2003.
According to the Office of National Statistics, as of December 2013, there are roughly 221 000 South Africans living in the UK. The late 90s and early noughties saw a bumper crop of short and long term migration to the UK from South Africa.
“I came to the UK for an extended holiday to see the world. I arrived on a working holiday visa, but switched to an ancestry visa after two years. Now I’ve been here 14 years,” explains Gerald who lives with his wife near Epsom.
“I came to the UK in 1999 on a two year working holiday visa. I worked as a supply teacher travelling in my holidays,” recounts Gregg “Back then teacher pay in London was much better than what I was getting in South Africa.”
The picture has changed over the years. “Overall, there has been a general decrease in immigration to the UK, as the UK Home Office is making it more difficult for people to come to the UK,” explain JB Immigration Consultants Ltd, “Except for the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme, which is basically the new ‘Working Holiday’ scheme, all the UK immigration routes are still open to South Africans.”
In addition, 1st Contact reveals that South African numbers applying to enter the UK on the available work visas “has consistently fallen from 29 300 in 2004, to 2060 in 2012.”
So who is coming? And who is going?
“We have certainly seen a trend in high net-worth clients immigrating, and businesses setting up branches in the United Kingdom in order to expand into the EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) markets,” confirm Breytenbachs.
There are a number of factors influencing South Africans to remain in the UK. The reason they came to the UK is the first consideration, suggests the Home Office:
“Migrants who arrive in the UK with family visas or as skilled or highly-skilled workers are more likely to naturalise than those with student visas or temporary work visas.”
Jeff was born in South Africa and came to the UK on a British passport. He has been here for 15 years: “I now have a family and run my own business. We have purchased a home on a part buy part rent scheme. There used to be a struggle in me, but I have come to realise that just because the weather is better in SA, that doesn’t mean that life is better. Most of the reasons I love being here are about the opportunities my family can have in terms of education, quality of life and exposure to the world.” Jeff lives in Enfield, which he considers to be a taste of “both London and the countryside”.
“I would like to go home for climate, lifestyle and family, but I am staying for job security, stability for the children and my husband is Irish,” says Fiona, now living in Hemel Hempstead, having arrived in the UK 17 years ago on a British passport.
In a recent European study of naturalisation trends, several factors were identified as being associated with higher likelihood of naturalisation.
“Naturalisation is more likely for migrants who speak the destination country’s language, who have a parent born in the destination country, who reside longer within it,” find researchers Dronkers and Vink (www.gov.org.uk).
Another argument is that migrants from a former colony of the destination country are more likely to naturalise. Though she was born and raised in Klerksdorp in South Africa, secondary school teacher, Leslie recalls, “I came to the UK as my family is originally from Scotland. I have always felt an affinity with the UK and felt more British than South African even when I lived in SA.” Leslie lives in Bracknell, in Berkshire having arrived in the UK on a British passport 7 years ago.
Dronkers and Vink claim that higher naturalisation rates occur “where citizenship law is relatively permissive. British citizenship law does not require renunciation of prior citizenships in order to naturalise.”
In addition, the citizenship laws in the sending country are relevant here. South Africans, with permission, are allowed to hold more than one passport. Zimbabwe does not permit dual citizenship, probably lowering naturalisation rates among Zimbabweans.
Many, of course, have returned to South Africa. Natalie has dual citizenship, she is a mother of three young children, now living in East London, South Africa:
“Once the kids came, our days in the UK were numbered. We had to get closer to grannies, grandpas, uncles, aunts and cousins.”
How have those of us who stayed begun to show our age?
Ten years ago we might have spent New Year at the Walkabout, The Slug, or Hogmanay; now we prefer a dinner at home with friends because the kids will wake us up early anyway. Ten years ago we were living in digs with other 20-something working travellers; now we’ve bought that house a little bit out of London in order to achieve the #bestofbothworlds. A decade ago we were single and fancy free; now we divide our lives between continents and hemispheres, talk of jumpers not jerseys, own trainers not takkies and instead of a holy-huddle of South African expats we now have a motley assortment of friends of different nationalities and our children speak with a British accent.
But not everything has changed: most of us still live in Merton, Wandsworth and other parts of the South West; we have not lost our taste for a braai (though we may call it a BBQ); we still visit the South African shops and we still read TheSouthAfrican.com.