Where Are Migrants Flocking to in South America?


South America is receiving an elevated immigration flow, according to a new statistical report published by the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The immigrant population in the region rose by 23 percent between 1990 and 2013, from 4.24 million to 5.23 million, which overshadowed stagnant immigration in Central America and the Caribbean.

Ecuador has shown the most rapid and positive inflow, with a 357 percent increase. From 78,700 in 1990, the number of immigrants reached a new record of 359,300 in 2013. Similarly, the number of immigrants in both Chile and Guyana has almost quadrupled, from 107,500 to 398,300 and 4,100 to 14,800, respectively.

Immigrant Population Growth: 1990-2013. Data Source: United Nations, Population Division

The remaining nations in the top five, in terms of percentage growth, are Bolivia and Suriname — although the British territory of the Falkland Islands comes in between the two with a 139 percent or 1,200-person increase.

Brazil and Uruguay were the only two South-American nations to see a decline, and both by a substantial magnitude of 25 percent. That pattern held true for the past 13 years as well, wherein Brazil lost 12 percent of its immigrant population and Uruguay lost 17 percent. All other South-American nations still saw population increases.

Latin America and the Caribbean combined are home to 8.6 million immigrants, up from 7.1 million in 1990. However, that figure remains almost incomparable to the 53.1 million immigrants currently residing in North America. That is the case even though South America alone, not including Central America and the Caribbean, has a total population greater than North America. (The UN measurement classifies Mexico as Central-American.)

Regional Immigrant Populations. Data Source: United Nations, Population Division

The UN report also points out that worldwide the number of people living outside their home countries, 3.2 percent, has never been higher. This year the figure reached 232 million, up from 175 million in the year 2000. Of the current migrant population, those living in developed countries amount to 136 million, while those living in developing countries total 96 million.

John Wilmoth, director of the Population Division, said that profound changes are taking place. There are now countries which are simultaneously sources, destinations, and transit zones for immigrants. He also noted that migrants born in Latin America and the Caribbean represent the second largest diaspora, behind only those from Asia. The Latin-Americans live mostly in North America, especially in the United States.

The United States, with 46 million immigrants, is also the world’s most popular destination in absolute terms. It is the country of choice for 26 million Latin-American immigrants — including 13 million Mexicans — more than two million Chinese, two million Indians, and two million Filipinos.

Half of the world’s migrant population then live in just ten countries. After the US, we have Russia, with 11 million; Germany, with 9.8 million; Saudi Arabia, with 9 million; the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom, with 7.8 million each; France, with 7.4 million; Canada, with 7.3 million; and Australia and Spain, with 6.5 million each.

Wu Hongbo, under secretary general in the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, considers that properly-regulated immigration could further social and economic development in source and destination countries alike, as he deems it “an essential means to increase access to resources and reduce poverty.”

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