Chile is a great country to live in; just ask its nearly 500,000 immigrants (3% of its population). That figure is likely to double by 2025 as even more immigrants pour into the new El Dorado on account of its economic prosperity. According to La Migración en Chile: Breve Reporte y Caracterización, or report on the characteristics of Chilean migration, since 2001, Chile has become the leading migrant destination in Latin America. This trend has also held true for First World immigrants this century, with significant increases in South Koreans, French, Germans, Dutch, Austrians, Czechs and Americans, with honorable mention going to British, Italian and Japanese immigrants.
Although the percentage of First World (OECD) immigrants from places like the U.S.A. and Spain sharply declined during the now outgoing Bachelet administration, it should reverse itself now that the leftist threat has subsided and President Piñera will be back in office, and Latin American and Caribbean immigration has not stopped soaring—and that trend continues. No country in Latin America has experienced a higher boom in immigration recently than Chile. Although the lion’s share of immigrants are workers in their 20s, 30s and 40s, they are not entirely uneducated. In fact, the Chilean government states that the average education level of an immigrant is higher than that of a Chilean citizen—a fact which bodes well for Chile’s economic future.
Furthermore, many immigrants will take any job. I personally have met Venezuelans fleeing the horrors of life under Maduro in once-prosperous Venezuela. Many of them are now working as maids, auto mechanics and electricians in Chile, having earned university degrees from their homeland in education, construction engineering, and industrial engineering, respectively. They are also earning wages that are perhaps 10% lower than Chileans earn.
Such is the cost of being a refugee and one reason I have always advocated getting a second passport (besides the Chilean one). One never knows when things can turn bad and it becomes necessary to leave. How much better is it to arrive in a new place as a citizen rather than a refugee?
According to Población Migrante en Chile, roughly translated as “immigration yearbook,” published by the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Peruvians still comprise the largest immigration group, making up 27.5%/21.2% of total initial visa applications approved/applied for in 2016. They are followed by Colombians (17.8%/17.7%). The Colombian case is interesting since I would say, along with many others, that Colombia may be the second most desirable place to go to in Latin America, neck-and-neck with Panama. Yet the “market” indicates that large numbers of Colombians would rather live in Chile, a figure which has continued to increase dramatically in recent years—even surpassing Bolivian immigrants—implying that Chile is a far more attractive place.
Bolivia comes next (17.1%/13.3%), which, along with Peru, has easy connectivity with the far north of Chile. Indeed, while the Santiago area attracts 61.6% of new, legal immigrants, the far north (Antofagasta, Calama, Iquique and Arica) attracts an impressive 23.3%, especially remarkable when compared to only 4.0% for Valparaíso/Viña del Mar (Chile’s second largest metropolitan area). They are followed by Haitians (5.8%/16.0%), Venezuelans (5.7%/14.7%), Argentines (4.8%/3.7%), many from the latter two countries being professionals, then Ecuador (3.1%/3.0%), Spain (2.6%/1.4%), the U.S.A. (2.5%/1.4%) and Brazil (1.7%/1.2%). Some of the Spaniards and Americans are freedom-seekers, but most are either retirees or working professionals coming down to work for a few years and then return to their home countries.
Note the figures (percentages) represent requests for initial, temporary visas. The country rankings are somewhat similar when considering applications for permanent residency, with Bolivians leapfrogging Colombians, and Haitians falling below everyone (2.0%, just ahead of Brazil), followed by strong rises in applications made by Argentines, Spaniards and Ecuadorans. The U.S.A. dropping out of the top ten at that stage (reflecting that most Americans in Chile come for short-term assignments with their firms then go back), being eclipsed by other nations, even the Chinese (2.3%) which are on the rise at this stage—along with people from the Dominican Republic. About 10% to 12% of new immigrants settle in wealthier sections like Las Condes or Providencia; most of the rest live in poorer or lower-middle-class sections of Santiago and cities in northern Chile, indicating that the great majority of immigrants are not wealthy, nor qualify as upper-middle class.
I remember how unusual it was to see a black person in Chile during the 1990s. Nearly everyone stared at Negro visitors on the Metro out of curiosity. In 2008, I mentioned in an Escape America Now blog entry that Chile has very few black people. That has totally changed since 2015—especially in the last year. Blacks from Haiti and Colombia are now seen everywhere. There is no institutionalized welfare state in Chile, so these people come to work, even though Colombian women often end up being prostitutes. They are seen doing menial cleanup jobs, heavy lifting and loading, house cleaning, and selling candy at intersections with longer-wait stoplights. The Haitians hardly speak Spanish.
From 2015 to 2016, the number of Colombians applying for visas increased by 40.7% (28,361), Haitians by a whopping 419.0% (35,277), and Venezuelans by a remarkable 323.7% (30,751). Working as much as we do with immigration services for our clients, we have every reason to believe that these large increases skyrocketed even further during 2017. At immigration offices in downtown Santiago, the line to enter (since 2017) now stretches around the block, largely full of immigrants from these three countries. Note that the figures cited do not include illegal or undocumented immigrants, whose number is surely significant, especially from Peru and Bolivia.
In the same way that Chile discriminates against 51% of the world’s countries by making it much harder for them to come to Chile, the ease of getting a visa once in country also varies according to Chile’s revealed preference for First World or professional immigrants. For instance, the average wait time for the initial temporary visa for Venezuelans is 63.2 days, with Americans slightly behind at 65.2 days, followed by Argentines (66.9), Spaniards (70.3), and Brazilians (74.2). However, the wait times are much longer for people from countries that send poorer people: Peruvians (152.7), Colombians (133.9), Ecuadorians (119.3), and Haitians (99.4).
Chile needs immigrants. Nowadays, Chilean women produce only 1.9 children on average, which is not enough to replace the country’s population. And immigrants, especially educated ones, tend to be a boon to the economy (Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2, 1996). Moreover, Chile’s demographic makeup is changing racially and politically. Skin color is not quite a white as it was a few years ago. And people from Venezuela and Argentina, and possibly Argentina and Brazil, are likely to support anti-left, anti-communist candidates, given the fact that they fled countries that have been beleaguered and damaged by them. That fact bodes well for libertarians and constitutional conservatives in Chile, since we may expect a rightward or freedom-minded political shift over the coming decade. (Remember that one may vote in Chile after achieving five years of permanent residency.)
Overall, therefore, we should welcome the recent demographic changes caused by immigration to Chile. Even the government, employers and even huge labor unions agree. Chile has passed the “market test,” as growing thousands pour into the territory seeking a better life. Is not that a good indicator for you? While you ponder the grave situation you face in the Northern Hemisphere, now is as good a time as any to consider setting down roots (or at least a “Plan B” residence with visa) in Chile. Visit Escape America Now to find out more about or residency and consultancy services. You will be welcomed and well-liked in this country situated at the end of the world.
Be sure to become a member of Escape America Now and gain access to the monthly webinar. Details at www.esccapeamerianow.info. Visit AllAboutChile.com for discussion and forums about the country. Non-wealthy immigrants to Chile should also create a portable income by signing up to be a 51Talk online English teacher. Read more details about the job in my previous post on the subject.
For a brief introduction consider Dr. Cobin’s abridged 2015 book (56 pages): Chile: A Primer for Expats ($19), offering highlights (somewhat outdated) found in the larger book. Buy Dr. Cobin’s Public Policy books at Amazon.com: