Why don't Americans emigrate to Asian countries?

Country Profiles Migration: Data - History - Politics

Joaquín Eguren Rodríguez

Dr. Joaquín Eguren Rodríguez teaches and researches at the University Institute for Migration Studies (IUEM) of the Comillas Pontifical University in Madrid and coordinates the Ibero-American Observatory on Human Mobility, Migration and Development (OBIMID).

South America is a continent that has seen a lot of immigration. Interregional migration is currently increasing sharply. This article provides a general overview of the continent's older and more recent migration history, as well as attempts by governments to control migration flows.

European immigrants in rural Argentina recruited in the late 19th century to increase agricultural production. Between 1880 and 1930, Argentina became one of the ten richest nations in the world as a result of its agricultural expansion. (& copy picture-alliance, Everrett Collection)

Brief history of immigration to South America

Since its discovery at the end of the 15th century, South America has repeatedly been the target of European migrants, for example in the 19th and 20th centuries or more recently in the wake of the global financial and economic crisis of 2008 - albeit to a much lesser extent. The European emigration, which reached the American double continent between 1820 and 1930, is known as the "great European immigration", the migrants as the "European diaspora". The immigrants came mainly from rural areas of Europe; a lack of job opportunities and population growth motivated their migration. [1]

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Europeans made up a significant proportion of the immigrant population, particularly in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Chile, where many descendants of these European immigrants still live today. At the time of their arrival, these countries were sparsely populated - not least because large parts of the indigenous population were wiped out in the course of the colonization of South America. Argentina took in over six million people, mainly from Italy and Spain, four million of whom stayed permanently. In addition, around five million people from Europe came to Brazil between 1860 and 1920, although many of them left the country again.

Almost a million Europeans arrived in Uruguay, but only 60 percent took root here. They also came mainly from Italy and Spain. Tens of thousands of migrants came to Chile. Germans, Croatians, Spanish, Italians, French and English. Around 300,000 Europeans reached Venezuela, significantly fewer came to Peru and Colombia.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, migrants from China and Japan also came to South America, especially Peru.

By the middle of the 20th century, many Spaniards had reached the South American continent who fled the Spanish Civil War. Most of them were Catalans, but also French and Spanish Basques. After the Second World War, many Germans emigrated to South America, including a few hundred former National Socialist functionaries who wanted to evade criminal prosecution in Europe in this way.

European immigration had a major impact on the political, social, cultural and religious characteristics of the South American receiving countries.

Recently, people from Asia (China, Japan and South Korea) and some African countries are migrating to South America. Many of them are looking for protection and asylum and most of them want to continue to the USA.

Emigration from South America

In the last decades of the 20th century and the first decades of the 21st century, a significant number of South Americans emigrated mainly to the USA and, secondly, to Europe.

Between 1990 and 2018, Europe saw the arrival of large numbers of people from South America. Immigration weakened during the economic crisis that began around 2008, but increased again afterwards, with the destination countries becoming more and more diversified. The most numerous are migrants from Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, and recently also from Venezuela. So far, you have mainly headed for Spain and, in second place, Italy, although the economic crisis in both countries temporarily led some South American migrants to migrate to other European countries.

Interregional migration

Interregional migration has increased sharply on the American subcontinent over the past few decades. There are currently around two million such migrants. Two subsystems of these migrations must be distinguished: First, the southern cone (Cono Sur) with Argentina as a traditional destination for migrants from the neighboring countries Paraguay, Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay and - to a lesser extent - from Brazil. In the last three decades, Peru has also developed into a main country of origin. The second subsystem includes the Andean countries, among which Venezuela was the most important destination for migration for a long time, while Colombia was the most important country of origin. In comparison, only a very small number of interregional migrants came from Ecuador and Peru. The direction of migrations within this subsystem has changed completely since the increasing crisis in Venezuela in recent years. Now it is Venezuelans who are migrating in large numbers to Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. [2] The number of Venezuelans who have left their country since the beginning of 2015 is now around 4.75 million.

The most important countries of origin and destination

Currently, the most important countries of origin of South American migrants (both interregional and outside of South America) are Venezuela, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru and Colombia. The main receiving countries are Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile.

South American migrants use three types of migration routes: air, land and sea. The air route is mainly used for transatlantic trips to Europe, but also to the USA. The overland route is mainly used in the border areas of Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador and of Venezuela, Brazil and Suriname as well as in the three-country corners of Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.

Venezuelan emigrants and refugees in particular are currently taking the land route across the Andes on their way to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina. The sea route is the least used. Within the Latin American continent, these are often waterways such as border rivers and lakes.

Dealing with Migration

Two important processes of regional integration have existed in South America for several decades. [3]

First, the one established in 1997 is making an effort Andean Community (Comunidad Andina de Naciones, CAN) - as the successor organization to the Andean Pact established in 1969 with the Cartagena Agreement - for the integration of the Andean states. Its members are Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. [4] It has four goals: 1) free movement of goods, 2) free movement of services, 3) free movement of capital and 4) free movement of people. Progress has been made in migration policy in that citizens of these countries can move freely between Member States. The governments of the CAN countries offer their emigrated nationals protection and support in third countries, strive to improve nationality identification and cross-border security, and perfect the public reporting systems for identifying individuals.

In this regard, the following decisions should be highlighted:
  1. Recognition of national identity cards (both for nationals and residents of the Member States) as the only necessary proof of identity when traveling in the Andean region; a passport or visa are not required.
  2. Introduction of the Andean Migration Map (TAM) in 2006. It is a document for the statistical control of migration that must be presented when entering and leaving the territory of the Member States.
  3. Establishment of airport counters only for nationals and foreign residents of the member states of the Andean Community.
In addition, two mechanisms for labor market integration and social security for citizens of the Andean Community were introduced. Although not implemented by all countries, the Labor Migration Mechanism (Instrumento Andino de Migración Laboral) regulates "the increasing and gradual movement and residence of Andean nationals in the sub-region for the purpose of dependent employment" [5] equal conditions and opportunities too. On the other hand, the Social Security Instrument (Instrumento Andino de Seguridad Social) guarantees adequate social protection for migrant workers and beneficiaries in order to prevent their social rights from being disadvantaged by moving to another member country of the Andean Community.

Second, in 1991 the Common South American Market (MERCOSUR) founded on the basis of the Treaty of Asunción. Members are Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay; Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Peru are associated states. Venezuela's membership was suspended in 2017 because of the undermining of democracy in the country. [6]

MERCOSUR was founded primarily as a trading community, but it has gradually integrated the areas of social and labor market policy, including migration.

Two instruments are to be highlighted in this field:
  1. The "Agreement to Regularize Internal Migration of Citizens of the Member States of MERCOSUR, Bolivia and Chile" [7], which was approved by the respective national interior ministries in 2002, has simplified the administrative procedures regarding residence. Since then, it has been possible to apply for a residence permit without leaving the country of origin and regardless of the status upon entry.

  2. The "Agreement on the Residence of Nationals of the Member States of MERCOSUR" [8]
    1. allows nationals to reside in another Alliance country with simple proof of citizenship;
    2. applies both to those who want to move their residence to another member country and to those who already have their residence in another member country;
    3. is applied regardless of the situation or migration status of the people;
    4. establishes equal civil rights and equal treatment with nationals;
    5. facilitates money transfers and family reunification;
    6. ensures the transfer of all rights to the children of immigrants.
On the basis of this agreement, the member states can grant temporary residence permits for a period of up to two years, followed by a permanent right of residence. Finally, the South American Migration Conference (CSM) should be mentioned, a non-binding intergovernmental cooperation that emerged from the necessity of the South American states, coordinate their migration policies.

Current debates and challenges

The most important topic in South America is currently the reception and care of the more than four and a half million Venezuelan emigrants and refugees who come to many of the nearby countries. Colombia (1.4 million), Peru (860,000), Ecuador (330,000) and Brazil (212,000) shoulder the largest share. [9] Until the beginning of 2017, these countries generally did not require a consular visa, so Venezuelans could enter the country with their passports or ID cards on the basis of existing contracts. In 2018 and 2019, however, the governments of Chile, Ecuador and Peru gradually introduced a visa requirement. Insecurity and tension, especially in relation to Venezuelan immigrants in Ecuador, Peru and Colombia, have increased. The medical situation in these countries is also worsening due to the occurrence of diseases such as measles and tuberculosis, which have already been largely eradicated there and are now causing renewed concern.

Above all in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and on the Brazilian border, there are increasingly negative attitudes towards immigrants, especially Venezuelans, often as a reaction to the crimes committed by some migrants of this nationality.

The main receiving countries of Venezuelan migrants in South America will have to come up with new regularization processes for immigrants with irregular residence status, especially because of the rapidly growing number of Venezuelan immigrants. But this also applies to a growing number of Haitian migrants in Chile who live there without a residence permit.

The challenge that the governments of these countries are currently facing is to agree on a common policy on how to deal with migration. Because almost all South American countries have recently faced immigration.

After all, human trafficking in its two forms - forced prostitution and forced labor - is also an important challenge, as the number of victims is steadily increasing. The problem is particularly serious because it affects mainly those children and women who are in a helpless situation.

Translation from Spanish: Laura Haber


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