Emigration from Colombia

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Colombian restaurant in Jackson Heights, New York City, where the largest number of Colombians outside Colombia resides.

Emigration from Colombia is a migratory phenomenon that has been taking place in Colombia since the early 20th century.


Emigration from Colombia is determined by economic, social, and security issues linked mainly to the Colombian armed conflict. Emigration from Colombia is one of the largest in volume in Hispanic America. According to the 2005 Colombian census or DANE, about 3,331,107 Colombian citizens currently permanently reside outside of Colombia.[1][2] Other estimates, however, suggest that the actual number could exceed 4 million, or almost 10 percent of the country's population.[3] Approximately 1.2 million Colombians are believed to have left the country during 2000–5 and not returned.[3]

The population movement in recent years toward North America and Europe in particular has been motivated in some cases by the threat of violence but more typically by the search for greater economic opportunity.[3] Due to the current sociopolitical situation in Colombia, emigration affects Colombians of all social standings and geographic zones. The highest rates of emigration have been registered in the main urban centers of the interior zone of the country: Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Bucaramanga, Pereira, Manizales, and Cúcuta.[citation needed]


External migration is primarily to the United States, Venezuela, Spain, and Ecuador.[4] As of 2003, the estimated Colombian population in those countries was 2,020,000, 1,340,000, 240,000, and 193,000, respectively.[4] Panama, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom also have significant (>20,000) populations of Colombian emigrants.[4] In 2003, North America was the destination for 48 percent of Colombian emigrants; Hispanic America and the Caribbean, 40 percent; Europe, 11 percent; and Asia, Oceania, and Africa, 1 percent.[3]

The Colombian diaspora refers to the mass movement of Colombian people who have emigrated from the country in search of safety and/or a better quality of life. Many of those who moved were educated middle and upper middle-class Colombians; because of this, the Colombian diaspora can be referred to as a brain drain. However, significant numbers of poor Colombians have also been documented. Colombian officials state that this movement peaked in the year 2000 and that the most popular destinations for emigration include North America and Europe. In Europe, Spain has the largest Colombian community on the continent, followed by Italy and the United Kingdom.[citation needed] Many Colombians are also dispersed throughout the rest of Hispanic America. Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru and Chile received political refugees in the mid-to-late 20th century, and Colombian guest workers in the early 2000s. The Colombian diaspora can also refer to the new wave of Colombian artists who have migrated seeking better opportunities and new, more lucrative markets.

Perhaps the most well-known concentration of Colombians abroad is the Jackson Heights section of Queens, one of the five boroughs of New York City. It is sometimes called El Chapinerito or "Little Chapinero" after a middle-class section of Bogotá with similar architecture and ambiance. More recently, the area of Jackson Heights associated with Colombians has become home to Mexican and Ecuadorian immigrants. Other Queens neighborhoods with a Colombian presence are Elmhurst, Corona, and Woodside. The 2006 American Community Survey put out by the US Census Bureau reports that 80,116 persons claiming Colombian origins live in Queens, while 244,164 are spread out in the entire New York metropolitan area.[5][6]

Colombian restaurants and bakeries are important institutions for the Colombian diaspora. These eateries have popularized formerly regional dishes like the well-portioned Bandeja paisa among Colombians from all parts of the country.

Top Colombian diaspora populations[edit]

Regions with significant populations

Country Population Rank Notes
 United States 1,081,838[7] 1 For further information see Colombian American
 Venezuela 721,791[8] 2
 Spain 354,461[9] 3 Largest community outside the Americas. See Colombians in Spain
 Chile 126,981 (2018)[10] 4
 Canada 76,580[11] 5 For further information see Colombian Canadian
 Panama 41,885 (2010)[12] 6
 Ecuador 77,426 (2010)[13] 4
 Italy 40,000 [14] 8
 France 28,000 [15] ?
 Mexico 13,922[page needed] 9 For further information see Colombian immigration to Mexico
 Argentina 13,876[page needed] 10
 United Kingdom 12,331[16] 11 Second largest South American community after Brazilians. See Colombians in the United Kingdom[page needed]
 Sweden 12,315[17] 12 Second largest Latin American community after Chileans.[page needed]
 Costa Rica 11,500[page needed] 13
 Australia 11,318[18] 14 For further information see Colombian Australian[page needed]
 Israel 3,127[19] 15

Social and economic impact[edit]

Colombians living abroad—1.5 million of whom departed during the economic downturn between 1996 and 2002—have had a positive effect on the balance of payments thanks to remittances to family and friends at home.[3] According to Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, the value of remittances from Colombians living abroad is ranked third as the main source of foreign money in Colombia and has already surpassed the value of coffee exports.[citation needed]

But external migration to the United States or Europe has represented a definite loss of talent and energy because migrants to the developed world tend to be better educated and in the prime of working life.[3] Some estimates would have roughly half the physicians trained in Colombia during certain years, at great expense to fellow Colombian taxpayers, now working in the United States.[3] Then, too, there are communities (as in Mexico, for example) that have been so drained of young workers that they find themselves dependent on the flow of remittances.[3] Several municipalities in the vicinity of Pereira in western Colombia, hard hit by troubles in the coffee industry and the competition of cheap Asian labor in garment exporting, exemplify the latter phenomenon.[3]

Human trafficking[edit]

The Colombian government has developed prevention programs against illegal groups that offer emigration help to unsuspecting people, many of whom are eventually forced into slavery, forced prostitution and human trafficking in foreign countries.

Notable Colombians in the world[edit]

Many talented Colombians have succeeded on the international stage:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://es.noticias.yahoo.com/efe/20070917/twl-colombia-advierte-que-la-migracion-h-e1e34ad_1.html
  2. ^ DANE - Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadistica
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bushnell, David and Rex A. Hudson. "Emigration". In Colombia: A Country Study (Rex A. Hudson, ed.), pp. 98-99. Library of Congress Federal Research Division (2010). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  4. ^ a b c Myriam Bérubé, Colombia: In the Crossfire, Migration Information Source
  5. ^ According to the US Census Bureau's 2006 American Community Survey, around 801,363 persons claiming Colombian origins live in the US. Detailed Tables - American FactFinder
  6. ^ Detailed Tables - American FactFinder
  7. ^ The Hispanic Population: 2010 U.S. Census Bureau
  8. ^ INE (2011). "Población nacida en el exterior, por año llegada a Venezuela, según pais de nacimiento, Censo 2011" (PDF). Ine.gob.ve (in Spanish).
  9. ^ Población (españoles/extranjeros) por País de Nacimiento, sexo y año Instituto Nacional de Estadística
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ Statistics Canada (2011). "2011 National Household Survey: Data tables". 12.statcan.gc.ca.
  12. ^ Cuadro 7: Población nacida en el extranjero en la República, por grupos de edad, según sexo y país de nacimiento. INEC Panamá
  13. ^ Más allá de las fronteras: la población colombiana en su proceso de integración urbana en la ciudad de Quito. ACNUR
  14. ^ "Immigrant and Emigrant Populations by Country of Origin and Destination - mid-2017 UN Population Division estimates".
  15. ^ "Immigrant and Emigrant Populations by Country of Origin and Destination - mid-2017 UN Population Division estimates".
  16. ^ "Country of Birth Database" (XLS). Oecd.org. Retrieved 2017-08-10.
  17. ^ "Utrikes födda efter födelseland, kön och år". www.scb.se. Statistiska Centralbyrån. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  18. ^ Department of Social Services (2011). "The Colombia-born Community".