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Around 28.5 Million Latin American and Caribbean People Live Outside their Native Countries

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11 November 2014|Press Release

Intraregional migration flows have intensified in recent years, according to a new study by ECLAC.


foto migrantes
According to ECLAC, emigration to destinations outside the region declined between 2000 and 2010.
EFE/Gustavo Amador

(11 November 2014) About 28.5 million Latin American and Caribbean people live outside the countries where they were born, 70 % of them in the United States, while a majority of the immigrant population of 7.6 million people originated from other countries in the region, according to a new study by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

The document Trends and Patterns in Latin American and Caribbean Migration in 2010 and Challenges for a Regional Agenda (only available in Spanish), published today, concludes that emigration to destinations outside the region declined between 2000 and 2010 (based on census data) while intraregional migration flows have grown.

The 28.5 million Latin American and Caribbean emigrants represent 4 % of the region’s total population, exceeding the 26 million emigrants registered in censuses from the year 2000. With regard to their native countries, 11.8 million come from Mexico (40 % of the total), with Colombia lagging far behind with 2 million emigrants and El Salvador with 1.3 million.

In terms of destination countries, the United States ranks first as home to 20.8 million Latin American and Caribbean emigrants (70 % of the total), which includes nearly all of the 12 million Mexicans who live outside their country. Spain is the second most-common destination with 2.4 million people (8 % of the total).

Meanwhile, the immigrant population living in Latin America and the Caribbean is estimated at 7.6 million people, which is the equivalent of just 1.1 % of the region’s total. Of those, a majority were born in other countries of the region (intraregional migration).

The study emphasizes that migratory flows within the region rose at an annual rate of nearly 3.5 % between 2000 and 2010, marking an acceleration from the previous 20 years when they grew at a pace of roughly 1%. Argentina, Venezuela, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic concentrated the greatest number of these people.

The number of immigrants who were born outside the region fell between 2000 and 2010 in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Uruguay, which indicates that in those cases the arrival of immigrants did not compensate for the mortality rate or that group’s re-emigration. In contrast, in other countries the presence of this group of immigrants increased, such as in the Dominican Republic (11.3 %), Bolivia (7.4 %), Mexico (7.1 %) and Panama (6.2 %).

The document indicates that immigration from overseas, especially on the part of Spaniards, would have intensified during recent years due to the global economic crisis, but it was still a far cry from the high rate of Latin American and Caribbean emigration to Europe.

With regard to returning migrants, the document cites 2010 census figures from six countries with available data. The greatest flows were seen in Mexico (860,000 people, a number that could possibly include forced repatriations), while only about 100,000 people returned to their places of origin in the other nations being studied.

This report analyzes a sample of 10 countries in the region whose 2010 census data was available by early 2014 in the data bank of ECLAC’s research project called Investigation of International Migration in Latin America (IMILA). In some cases, these statistics are complemented by others from the United Nations Population Division and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In light of the dynamism that continues to be seen in migration in Latin America and the Caribbean, the report signals that intergovernmental forums—both in and outside the region—are including in their agendas a common stance to defend migrants’ human rights and reject the restrictive, unilateral measures used by some developed countries that are destinations for Latin American and Caribbean emigrants.

In this context, ECLAC proposes building an agenda on this issue that fully includes migration in post-2015 development strategies and drafting regional plans to take advantage of the benefits of migration.

That agenda should also allow for greater dialogue and cooperation on migration, human rights and development in global forums, while also making progress on protecting the rights of migrants—particularly children, adolescents, women, low-skilled workers and people who are in irregular situations or have been forced to seek refuge.