Migration: the new challenge for Chile in the 21st century

According to the United Nations, there were almost 370,000 immigrants in Chile in 2010; a figure which had risen considerably to 470,000 in 2015. Of these migrants, the majority have a higher level of education than the average Chilean, i.e., they have professional and technical qualifications in diverse areas. This has proved to be a significant contribution to national economic, social and cultural development.

We are currently living in an increasingly dynamic global scenario in which multiculturalism and the exchange of experiences are key tools for developing innovation and adopting new trends.

In general terms, migratory movements between Chile and other countries are a central component of overall demographic dynamics, in which all migrants directly affect economic growth. Moreover, this situation requires the design of new and up-to-date legislation. Accordingly, there is ongoing discussion in Chile of the need to amend the existing Migration Act, particularly in regard to the rights and duties of immigrants in relation to employment. This process is incredibly important and will undoubtedly impact on the country’s standing in the world, helping to shape its prominence on the global stage.

It is clear that Chile has made significant progress in this area, exemplified by its numerous instances of collaboration and understanding with other nations, such as those with the United States. Indeed, the US is not only Chile’s main trading partner, but also its cities including New York and Los Angeles are home to the highest numbers of Chileans in that country. According to the census undertaken in the US in 2010, the number of Chileans resident in America exceeded 120,000. Overall, the US is second on the list in terms of Chilean citizens living abroad, behind Argentina which is home to 612,000 Chileans.

Examples of Chileans to have succeeded in the US are numerous. One is the notable case of the biochemist and winner of the Chilean National Science Award, Pablo Valenzuela, who during his time in America has participated in the creation of a vaccine against the hepatitis B virus and collaborated in research which has enabled scientists to sequence the AIDS genome.

In a distinct field, Ricardo Caballero is one of the most renowned Chilean economists on the international stage and current professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

In the field of arts, the creations of painter and sculptor Benjamín Lira and photographer Sergio Larraín are worthy of note. Indeed, their respective works are regularly cited by numerous publications for their depictions of US society and the American way of life during different decades and periods of the 20th century.

The aforementioned Chileans are now part of US history. But it is not all one way traffic, as numerous US citizens have influenced Chilean history by choosing to call this country their home. According to figures from the 2012 census, more than 11,000 Americans live in Chile, contributing widely to the development of businesses across a range of productive sectors. In fact, many US citizens have emigrated to Chile due to its high socioeconomic indicators compared to other Latin American countries.

Furthermore, there are large numbers of students from the US studying in Chile. A report compiled by the Institute of International Education (IIE) states that between the academic years of 2007-2008 and 2008-2009, the number of students from the US studying in various regions of the country rose by 20%.

Immigrants form part of an important group that will continue to contribute to the growth of Chile throughout the 21st century. In addition, migration is a trend that reflects a permanent bond between Chileans and non-Chileans, which directly affects the exchange of experiences and the generation of new opportunities for collaboration. Furthermore, this is a trend that AmCham Chile is also promoting through its distinct committees and areas of work.

Moreover, that Santiago and other cities and regions of the country are an attractive destination for people from other countries demonstrates the stability of Chile’s institutions and economy, which are increasingly recognized on the global stage. The challenge now is to be able to efficiently legislate in this area in order to provide migrants from other countries the necessary conditions for their employment and ongoing human development.


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