About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

12 March 2012

An immigrant's tale

I was drawn to Ibrahim's stall at the market, because the items looked familiar and very different to everyone else. He was selling sculptures made from iron, commonly seen in southern Africa but not many other places.

Although I didn't buy anything, I ended up chatting to him for a while. When he found out that I was from South Adria, he state without prompting that he got inspiration from similar crafts in Zimbabwe and South Africa, and that he was himself from Egypt.

He decided to leave Egypt about 20 years ago, and applied for visitors visas to a number of countries - Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland and Netherlands. All except Finland approved.

When he eventually got here, he had three weeks. Since he couldn't get a job, his strategy was the same as many others in his position, find a wife and get residency/citizenship. He married an old woman, an has been in Finland ever since, and working with metal sculptures for a number of years.

He has evidently had quite a lot of success in the past; he showed me numerous newspaper clippings featuring him with his sculptures, awards etc. But times aren't good - he claims that the Finnish economy is effectively in recession, and his artwork is more often bought by the rich and not normal tourists. The weather has also meant that there aren't that many tourists to sell to. Finally, with the coat of metal and coal going up, helped with additional taxes, his costs are also going up; negatively impacting his sales.

His tale was not different to another one in San Francisco. Manuel, from Venezuela, decided to leave for the US just as the politics in Venezuela wee changing. Like Ibrahim, he entered on a tourist visa (except he had an easier time due to his middle class background and friends already in the US); and once he got there got married to get his papers sorted. He subsequently got divorced, once the paperwork was completed. Manuel's comment was, that this process is so easy, he finds it difficult to understand why anyone would come in as an illegal; though did concede his background helped.

Both Manuel and Ibrahim have no intention of leaving. They consider themselves American and Finnish respectively; speak the languages, know the culture and fit in.

Ibrahim commented very positively on South Africa, that it is seen as the beacon of Africa; the combination of Africa and the west. He was surprised to hear that we have high employment; he was under the impression that jobs were plentiful! But one thing that I find interesting as a difference is how well immigrants integrate in certain countries; from the language to the culture. Maybe this is based on the skill type (most immigrants I have encountered are after all employed in IT or service industries). In SA this does not seem to happen well; especially with regards to language. Or perhaps it has something to do with the tightening up of immigration laws; citizenship in SA is not dependent on any language or cultural test (as in the case of Germany for example).

That said it is not necessarily bad; SA position allows for very quick processing and it makes it far more attractive as a means to attract skills. I know off many South Africans who want to leave, but there are so many from various parts of the world (not only from Africa) who want to come and stay. I am all for open immigration policies across the world, but having a combination of unequal policies, in my opinion, helps to exaggerate the problem.

Ibrahim's website: http://seppaibrahim.fi/.

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