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What is the Future of Immigration in Chile?

Written by Valentina Floegel, Sociology Ph.D. Student at UCLA.

What is the Future of Immigration in Chile?

On June 8th, Gabriel Boric, president of Chile, spoke at UCLA. He gave a keynote address on democracy and highlighted Chile’s preparation to work with the world's largest economies. Chile, a country with consistent and effective social movements, voted for the socialist leader in 2022, in an election that, for many, paralleled the United States' 2016 election, with the right-wing candidate running on a similar anti-immigration platform. Chile, however, chose differently; they chose Gabriel Boric. This came months after they also voted to rewrite their constitution, a dictatorship-era document that institutionalized the privatization of many social services. When someone asked Boric about how the United States seems to be reversing rights, such as abortion—he responded, "Well, Chile is progressing." Nevertheless, in many aspects, Chile is following the same trajectory as the United States—particularly in its response to immigration. Situated along the west coast of South America, Chile shares borders with Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina. Still, it has never been considered a destination for immigrants, with less than 3 percent of the population being immigrants until 2015. Before the 2010s, these bordering countries made up most of the immigrant population. However, this has changed recently with the rise of migration from Colombia, Haiti, and Venezuela—making the foreign-born population more than double, to almost 9 percent (INE 2021) in less than a decade.

Naturally, immigration has become a major political issue. It is frequently debated on news broadcasts and social media—often in the context of racism, crime, and the shifting demography of cities. Service sector jobs, restaurants, retail, and jobs in the tech industry are occupied by immigrants of various backgrounds, ethnicities, and races. Employers have been shown to discriminate against newcomers in terms of wages and treatment, thus erecting barriers to social integration (El Mostrador, 2022). At the same time, there has been an eruption of immigrant activism and migrant-serving organizations, many led by immigrants themselves. While the government scrambles to develop "humanitarian" responses, it has enacted various policies to restrict the newer flows. For example, the government added a visa requirement for Venezuelans and Haitians in 2018 while also denying many asylum cases and leaving migrants stranded at the border (Selee & Bolter, 2020). 

In the past decade, immigrants have emerged as political actors—both in the public and administrative spheres. Diverse migrant communities from Peru, Venezuela, Haiti, Colombia, and Bolivia have worked with civil society organizations, such as the Coordinadora Nacional de Inmigrantes (CNI) and Movimiento Acción Migrante (MAM), to challenge unjust immigration laws in court. These immigrant-serving civil society organizations have increased due to the lack of government assistance in integration efforts and legal cases. Servicio Jesuita Al Migrante (SJM) and  INFOMigra are two organizations that provide accessible information online for migrants navigating bureaucratic paperwork. SJM also publishes articles on immigration to Chile, serves as a spokesperson for immigrant issues, and is regularly involved in immigrant-rights cases. Likewise, the CNI works in immigrant advocacy, notably in the area of legal representation. The rise in immigrant support groups, politically active immigrants, and sympathetic scholars signals that immigration to Chile will likely only increase in political relevance.

Under the new immigration law, enacted under the previous administration in April 2021 but not yet implemented, Chile is prioritizing regularization for immigrants who have been in the country longer. Those who entered Chile after March 18, 2020, must exit Chile if they want to apply for residency. In a recent blog post for the Migration Policy Institute, Doña-Reveco (2022) wrote, "New reforms […] could tighten immigration by making it harder to obtain a residence permit from inside the country and allowing authorities to turn back people caught crossing the border without authorization, but it is so far unclear what impact it will have over the long term."

Civil society organizations are working to inform and assist the migrant community as the implementation moves forward. Still, however regional migration ultimately develops, it is clear that tensions will remain high. A recent survey by the Centro de Estudios Publicos (CEP, 2022) found that 61 percent of participants favored prohibiting any immigration to Chile. Recent crime rates and escalation of violence have been attributed to the newer population of migrants, especially in the north of Chile. Despite little data correlating crime to increased migration, the perception of many Chileans is the opposite. The district attorney of the northern region of Tarapacá, where many border crossings occur, blames gangs of migrants for the increase in homicides; the northern region of Antofagasta has also seen a 30 percent increase in crimes committed by foreigners (SJM, 2022). The Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Manuel Monsalve, has warned against the organized crime, cartels, and the "Aragua" train, a Venezuelan cartel, that has been found in the northern region of Arica (MISP, 2022; Andrews, 2022). Unfortunately, it is far too easy to stigmatize an entire group of people—migrants—even though many of them suffer at the hands of the same cartels. Nonetheless, Chile does not have sufficient infrastructure or political will to safely manage the number of migrants crossing into the country. 

During his trip to Los Angeles, as part of the Summit of the Americas IX, Gabriel Boric joined 20 other heads of state, including U.S. President Joe Biden, in signing the "Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection." The agreement builds on previous international commitments and promotes: (1) Stability and Assistance for Communities of Destination, Origin, Transit, and Return; (2) Regular Pathways for Migration and International Protection; (3) Humane Migration Management; and a (4) Coordinated [Regional] Emergency Response. It also seeks a shared approach to "reduce and manage irregular migration." Through these symbolic agreements, broader efforts can be conceptualized and potentially implemented. However, little progress beyond intent has been made. What is important is to learn how to discuss immigration separately from national security. We have seen how inflammatory language is utilized in the United States to shape perception, instill fear, and promote ineffective solutions in the name of border security. Are there lessons to be learned, or will "solutions" increasingly imitate the failed policies of the Global North? As regional migration in the Southern Cone increases, we must continue to watch how countries respond, especially in times of social change. 




 Andrews, J. P. (2022) “Tren de Aragua en Chile: fiscal no descarta encontrar más cadáveres tras procedimiento en que la policía desbarató banda vinculada al cartel en Arica,” La Tercera, 16 June. Available at: procedimiento-en-que-la-policia-desbarato-banda-vinculada-al-cartel-en-arica/ 

CEP (2022) Estudio Nacional de Opinión Pública N°86, Abril-Mayo de 2022 - Centro de Estudios Públicos, Available at: (Accessed: June 28, 2022).

Departamento de Extranjería Migración (DEM). (2020, March 27). Chileatiende - Plan humanitario de regreso ordenado. Retrieved December 16, 2020, from

Doña-Reveco, C. (2022) Chile’s welcoming approach to immigrants cools as numbers rise, Available at (Accessed: June 28, 2022).

El Mostrador (2022) “Estudio revela que empleadores son los que más obstáculos ponen a los inmigrantes en su proceso de inclusión,” 21 June. Available at: (Accessed: June 28, 2022).

INE (2021). Estimación de personas extranjeras residentes habituales en Chile al 31 de Diciembre de 2020. Retrieved from

Los Angeles declaration on migration and protection (2022) The White House. Available at: (Accessed: June 28, 2022).

MISP (2022) Subsecretaría del Interior – Ministerio del Interior y Seguridad Pública – Gobierno de Chile, Available at: (Accessed: June 28, 2022).

Selee, A., & Bolter, J. (2020). An uneven welcome: Latin American and Caribbean responses to Venezuelan and Nicaraguan migration.

SJM (2022) Actores de la región de Antofagasta por aumento del 30% en delitos de extranjeros: «Es una realidad» – SJM. Chile, Available at: del-30-en-delitos-de-extranjeros-es-una-realidad/ (Accessed: June 28, 2022).



The opinions expressed in this blog post represent the views of the author and not of the UCLA Latin American Institute.