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Chilean Society Only Hurting Itself by Ignoring Immigration

By: Andrés Barrientos Cárdenas - Sep 3, 2014, 1:00 pm

EspañolImmigration has been a widely ignored issue in Chile. Although debate on the role immigrants play in society is currently underway in the United States and the European Union, the global trend toward openness and multiculturalism has gained strength.

Álvaro Bellolio and Hernán Errázuriz make a case for open borders in Chile
Álvaro Bellolio and Hernán Errázuriz make a case for open borders in Chile. (LyD)

Chile cannot afford to lag behind in this debate, and it must anticipate this trend with a responsible and broad-minded approach.

In the mid-19th century, the visionary, miner, and politician Vicente Pérez Rosales hinted at an openness to immigration, which allowed for the arrival of colonists who settled in areas like Valdivia, Osorno, and Llanquihue, among others.

A prosperous society based on both migrants and local residents then flourished. European traditions mixed with indigenous knowledge, adding significant value to southern Chile and furthering its progress.

However, throughout the course of Chile’s history, the issue became largely ignored by successive administrations. This illustrates our society’s lethargic approach to an issue of tremendous importance for our country’s development.

Figures show the global average of immigrant populations to be around 3.1 percent. In more developed nations, that number increases to 10 percent or more. Chile’s immigrants make up 2.5 percent of its population, a relatively low number compared to the first world.

With this in mind, it’s worth noting the interesting phenomenon currently taking place in Chile. According to political scientist Patricio Navia, the immigrant population in the country has grown by 200 percent in the last 12 years. Most of them are coming from war-torn countries, and find Chile to be a place where they can spontaneously and voluntarily cooperate.

While there are less barriers to the movement of capital today, substantial differences remain regarding the free movement of people due to an exhausting bureaucracy and lack of a clear legal framework. As a result, Chile has not yet presented itself as an attractive option for Europeans, for example, who may have been affected by the economic crisis in their own countries.

With regard to the various misconceptions regarding immigrants, researcher Álvaro Bellolio answers the skeptics: “Immigrants tend to be more highly educated than Chileans, more willing to work, regardless of business sector, younger, and generally healthier.”

Bellolio addresses these issues, along with former Chancellor Hernán Felipe Errázuriz, in the recently released book Migrations in Chile: An Ignored Opportunity, with a preface written by Álvaro Vargas Llosa.

The study is a huge step towards demystifying certain negative preconceived notions that Chilean society holds with regard to immigration. The book also presents the idea of open borders as a great opportunity. The authors note that Chile needs “open borders, a criteria for future incentives, but also more flexible contracts, [since] hiring a foreigner to work in Chile today is very difficult.”

Immigration continues to be a controversial issue, given the many variables that it involves. However, it is time Chileans begin to think more about the enormous potential immigrants bring to our country: cultural enrichment, economic progress, and the opportunity to make Chile a richer, more humane country.

Translated by Adam Dubove.