The Buenos Aires Herald‘s Patricio Navia describes how Chile of late has become a major destination for immigrants from across South America, comparable in scale to Argentina.
Argentina was, for a long time, a favourite destination for people from neighbouring South American countries — especially from Bolivia, Paraguay and Chile. Second only to Brazil, Argentina was the largest South American economy and experienced prolonged periods of economic growth during the 20th century. Unlike Brazil, where language barriers had a dissuasive effect on many South Americans looking for a new country, every time Argentina went through a period of rapid growth, migrants from other Spanish-speaking countries in the region settled there. However, as inequality between the countries of Latin American has risen over the past 30 years, migrations patterns have also changed.
Today, Chile stands as the most developed country in Latin America, with a GDP per capita (PPP) of around US$20,000, just above Argentina’s US$19,000. As it has experienced a smoother ride than its neighbour, Chile has become the destination of choice for many South American immigrants. Close to eight percent of those in Chile come from Bolivia, a country with a GDP per capita (PPP) of US$5,364. Chile’s per capita GDP is 3.6 times that of Bolivia, a larger difference than the GDP per capita gap between the US and Mexico (3.4 times).
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In 2002, there were 184,464 foreign legal residents, 0.8 percent of the national population. In 2014, the number has risen to 441,529 (2.3 percent). This three-fold increase ranks among the fastest growing immigrant population in the world for countries with more than 10 million inhabitants.
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The case of Chile is also unique as a growing number of immigrants are coming from beyond neighbouring countries. Six out of ten immigrants in Chile are from neighbouring countries Peru (37.8 percent), Argentina (15 percent) and Bolivia (7.7 percent). Among Chile’s non-neighbouring countries, the most immigrants come from Ecuador (5.2 percent), Colombia (5.1 percent) and Brazil (2.9 percent). The presence of Colombians has captured media attention as immigrants from that country have risen by more than 500 percent, from less than 5,000 immigrants in 2002 to close to 25,000 today.