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ECLAC study finds that migrants contribute significantly to Chile’s economy and raise professional standards in Mexico

Migration can advance sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean by stimulating economic growth and decelerating population aging

En Tibú, Norte de Santander, Colombia, hay más de13.000 migrantes venezolanos
Venezuelan migrant workers in northern Colombia (Tibú, Santander).Santiago Mesa

In the last decade, human mobility in Latin America and the Caribbean has grown increasingly complex. Several countries went from being population expellers to net receivers, as migrants leave their homelands to seek better job opportunities. On Tuesday, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean published a report revealing that migration has had a positive impact on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in some areas. This is due to migrant labor contributions and their concentration in economically productive regions.

According to the report presented in Santiago, Chile, as part of a regional seminar that examined the contribution of international migration to sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean, the migrant labor force drives 13.4% of Chile’s GDP growth. In less than a decade, the GDP contribution generated by foreign labor quadrupled. During the same period, their contribution to the national economy nearly tripled. Moreover, the migrant labor force grew at an annual rate of over 20%, which is more than ten times the growth rate of the Chilean labor force.

Chile has become a popular destination for immigrants from other parts of South America. The number of foreign nationals in the country has skyrocketed over the years, increasing six-fold since 1992. Job-related migration has grown exponentially in the last decade: in 2009 there were 115,000 migrants in the Chilean labor market, a number that had doubled by 2013 and reached 550,000 in 2017. Migrants accounted for 6.5% of the labor force in 2017, rising from a mere 1.6% in 2009, and is estimated to be even higher today. Furthermore, migrant workers performing domestic and care duties aid local women in fulfilling their workplace responsibilities.

Human capital

The study also found that immigrant populations often bring professional qualifications that can raise a country’s standards. In Mexico, a scant 15% of the population over 25 has completed a bachelor’s degree or other studies after high school. Meanwhile, 35% of immigrants from the United States have higher education. Latin Americans have a significantly higher proportion, with 41%, while those from other regions of the world have the highest levels at 60%.

Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
A Nicaraguan migrant worker at a construction site near Santa Teresa beach in Costa Rica.Mauricio Morales

Thus, immigrants occupy a significant number of high-ranking positions, including directorships, managerial roles, and CEO positions. These demographics far outpace the representation of Mexican nationals in similar occupations, according to the study.

Peru’s largest immigrant group hails from Venezuela, representing 84.4% of the foreigners in the country. ECLAC says it’s still too early to determine this group’s contribution to sustainable development in Peru, as their migration there is recent. However, the data indicates that 40% have received some level of higher education, especially in the fields of health and education. But the challenges faced by this cohort are significant: vulnerable legal status, unfavorable working conditions, and difficulty in certifying skills and educational degrees.

Population rejuvenation

The ECLAC study suggests that migrant populations both mitigate population aging and boost birth rates. In Chile, migration accounted for over 33% of population growth between 2010 and 2020, serving to replenish the ranks of the country’s youth.

Between 2002 and 2017, immigration accounted for 45% of the growth in the Chilean population aged 20-39. Immigrants have also helped offset the negative effects of a decline in the under-20 population through their own offspring. In 2017, migration also contributed to 11% of the country’s natural population growth, a figure that has increased in recent years thanks to the inbound migration surge in 2018 and 2019.

“It’s clear that the arrival of immigrants in the last two decades has helped remedy intergenerational demographic imbalances caused by population aging and a drop in birth rates below replacement levels,” concluded the ECLAC study.

The seminar in Chile aimed to highlight the social, economic, and cultural benefits of international migration while promoting a more explicit recognition of migrant rights, including the human right to be treated equally and with respect.

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