Immigrants: They are coming back

The Independent on Sunday recently published a vox pop with people from all over the world who have been affected by the world crisis. They were asked to say what they expect from G20 leaders gathered in London this week

I collaborated from Brazil – and ended up learning about a silent drama that is going on with former immigrants in Brazil.

My interviewee, Evelyn Okajima, told me how she was forced to come back to Brazil after living in Japan as a dekassegui (a Japanese descendant who can get a work permit) for nine years. Evelyn, who is 27 years old, worked on a factory assembling cameras.

But since the end of last year, the working hours were cut in half – as well as her salary. Many factories started firing temporary workers like her, directly affecting the 330 thousand Brazilians who live there (it’s the biggest immigrant community in Japan).

Evelyn told me how entire families are being forced to live in cars, at relatives’ houses or on the streets. And that many others are coming back to Brazil without any perspective after having spent years of their lives pursuing a dream that never came true. 

The same is happening to immigrants in Europe and the US, where competition with local labour force grew fiercer with the crisis – while policies against legal immigrants grew tougher. 

According to official figures there are about 3 million Brazilians living abroad – half of them in the US and an awful lot illegally. But since the Brazilian government does not keep track of citizens that come back to the country, there is no way to tell how big the problem really is.

One indicative to our diplomatic service is that consulates in the US have received many more visitors who say they want to come back. But there are other figures: Brazilians already top the list at the voluntary return programme of the International Organization for Migration in two countries: Portugal and Ireland.

Brazilians living in Spain also face serious problems.

A designer living in Barcelona (but preparing to come back to Brazil in a few weeks) summarized the situation: “I worked at the marketing area of an aluminium factory. Sales were slow, so they had to fire some people. There were two of us – me and a Spanish girl. Who do you think would get fired?”

When these former immigrants get to Brazil, they face a series of problems. Apart from the psychological impact of an unplanned return, they rarely have saved enough to guarantee a good start back home. They have to look for jobs, but are not valued by the market because they often don’t have experience in Brazil.

Evelyn is facing such problems. She is living together with three sisters and their children –  who also had to come back from Japan – at their parents’ house. They have to share imrpovised rooms or sleep in the living room. She is looking for work, but with her own  3-year-old son things are not looking bright. Some jobs pay as little as 250 dollars per month.

That’s why, she said, our president should stop saying the crisis will not affect Brazil and help former immigrants who are coming back.