Immigration to Colombia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The largest concentration of foreign immigrants in Colombia is in Barranquilla, which was the main entrance port into Colombia, it also received the name "Puerta de Oro de Colombia" (Colombia's golden gate)

Immigration to Colombia during the early 19th and late 20th Century was relatively low when compared to other Latin American countries,[1] due to economic, social, and security issues linked to the La Violencia and the Colombian armed conflict. Colombia inherited from the Spanish Empire harsh rules against immigration, first in the Viceroyalty of New Granada and later in the Colombian Republic. The Constituent Assembly of Colombia and the subsequent reforms to the national constitution were much more open to the immigrants and the economic aperture. However naturalization of foreigners, with the exception of those children of Colombians born abroad, is still difficult to acquire due to paperwork and bureaucracy. Immigration in Colombia is managed by the "Migración Colombia" agency.

Colombia is experiencing large waves of immigration from other Latin American countries, Europe, East Asia, and North America over the past 5 years due to improvements in quality of life, security, and economic opportunities. The country is also subject to illegal immigration from South Asia, usually in attempts to make their way to the US border.


Colonial period[edit]

European immigration in Colombia began in 1510 with the colonization of San Sebastián de Urabá. In 1526, settlers founded Santa Marta, the oldest Spanish city still in existence in Colombia. Many Spaniards began their explorations searching for gold, while others Spaniards established themselves as leaders of the native social organizations, teaching natives the Christian faith and the ways of their civilization. Catholic priests would provide education for Native Americans that otherwise was unavailable. Within 100 years after the first Spanish settlement, nearly 95 percent of all Native Americans in Colombia had died.[citation needed] The majority of the deaths of Native Americans were the cause of diseases such as measles and smallpox, which were spread by European settlers.[citation needed] Many Native Americans were also killed by armed conflicts with European settlers.

White European (Spanish and French colonist) settlement focused mainly in the Andean highlands and Lebanese for the Caribbean coast, but little European settlement took place in the Choco region of the Pacific coast and the Amazonian plains. Out of all Spanish nationalities, the Castilians and the Basques were the most represented. Over time, white Europeans intermarried often with indigenous peoples (i.e. the Chibchas), and to produce a mixed-race population which are the majority of people in Colombia today.[citation needed]

Immigration from Europe[edit]

Colombia was one of the early focus of Basque immigration.[citation needed] Between 1540 and 1559, 8.9 percent of the residents of Colombia were of Basque origin. It has been suggested that the present-day incidence of business entrepreneurship in the region of Antioquia is attributable to the Basque immigration and Basque character traits.[2] Few Colombians of distant Basque descent are aware of their Basque ethnic heritage.[2] In Bogotá, there is a small colony of thirty to forty families who emigrated as a consequence of the Spanish Civil War or because of different opportunities.[2] Basque priests were the ones that introduced handball into Colombia.[3] Basque immigrants in Colombia were devoted to teaching and public administration.[3] In the first years of the Andean multinational company, Basque sailors navigated as captains and pilots on the majority of the ships until the country was able to train its own crews.[3] In December 1941 the United States government estimated that there were 10,000 Germans living in Colombia.[4] There were some Nazi agitators in Colombia, such as Barranquilla businessman Emil Prufurt.[4] Colombia invited Germans who were on the U.S. blacklist to leave. However, most German inhabitants arrived in the late 19th century as farmers and professionals. One such entrepreneur was Leo Siegfried Kopp, the founder of the brewery Bavaria.[4] SCADTA, a Colombian-German air transport corporation which was established by German expatriates in 1919, was the first commercial airline in the western hemisphere.[5]

Immigration from the Middle East[edit]

The first and largest wave of immigration from the Middle East began around 1880, and remained during the first two decades of the 20th century. They were mainly from Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine, fleeing the then colonized Ottoman Turkey territories.[6] Syrians, Palestinians, and Lebanese continued since then to settle in Colombia.[7] Due to poor existing information it's impossible to know the exact number of Lebanese and Syrians that immigrated to Colombia. A figure of 40,000-50,000 from 1880 to 1930 may be reliable.[7] Whatever the figure, Syrians and Lebanese are perhaps the biggest immigrant group next to the Spanish since independence.[7] Those who left their homeland in the Middle East to settle in Colombia left for different reasons such as religious, economic, and political reasons.[7] Some left to experience the adventure of migration. After Barranquilla and Cartagena, Bogotá stuck next to Cali, among cities with the largest number of Arabic-speaking representatives in Colombia in 1945.[7] The Arabs that went to Maicao were mostly Sunni Muslim with some Druze and Shiites, as well as Orthodox and Maronite Christians.[6] The mosque of Maicao is the second largest mosque in Latin America.[6] Middle Easterns are generally called Turco or Turkish.[6] although they are primarily Christian Arab immigrants from what was then the Ottoman Empire.[citation needed]

Immigration by origin[edit]

Chinese and other Asian[edit]

The city of Cali has the largest Asian community because of its proximity to the Pacific Coast;[citation needed] they also live around the nation in other cities such as Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Bogotá and Medellín. The DANE says the Chinese population is growing 10% every year. In recent years, particularly Chinese restaurants have experienced a surge and have become popular businesses in nearly every Colombian city.[citation needed]

There is a large gap in knowledge of the Chinese diaspora in Colombia in the period from the beginning of the 20th century until 1970–1980. The century began with the political upheavals in China that led to the creation of two political factions among the Chinese in and outside China, and eventually caused the communist revolution and the founding of the two separate Chinese states, one on the mainland and one in Taiwan. The effect for the Chinese diaspora was the creation not only of political but also more differentiation between migrants and distinguished by locality of origin, language, and history of migration. Thus, until today, in terms of organization, they are, on the one hand, the "Overseas Chinese Association", founded by Chinese who migrated to Colombia in the 1980s, and on the other, the Chinese Cultural Centre in Bogotá, founded in 1988 by a Taiwanese government institution (Zhang 1991).

Moreover, it is known that in 1970 there were over 6,000 Chinese living in Colombia, which means that they kept coming to this country. It can be assumed that the anti-immigrant atmosphere in many countries was the major cause of continued Chinese immigration to Colombia. The migration did not come from China, because during the first three decades of the People's Republic of China, emigration was severely restricted. In fact, it is known that in the early 20th century, due to xenophobia in the United States, a large number of Chinese migrated to Colombia. Restrepo (2001) states that at that time various groups of immigrants settled in Barranquilla.[citation needed]

The end of Chinese anti-immigration laws in the United States during the 1980s allowed many Chinese to emigrate from Colombia to the United States.[citation needed] As a result, of the 5,600 people of Chinese origin reported in 1982 (Poston and Yu 1990) in the 1990s were only 3,400, most of whom live in Bogota, Barranquilla, Cali, Cartagena, Medellin, Santa Marta, Manizales, Cucuta, and Pereira. All these movements flow of people around the world support the notion that the "Chinese diaspora" is far from staying in a country, take an identity, or "assimilate". Political, economic, social, and personal issues contributed to the circulation of the Chinese movement between various locations. These factors also have an important influence in the forms of residence and, more recently, in human trafficking.[8]

North American[edit]

About 3,000 North Americans arrived in Barranquilla during the late 19th century. By 1958, American immigrants comprised 10% of all immigrants living in Colombia. There are now 30,000–40,000 United States citizens living in Colombia, many of whom are Colombian emigrants to the United States who chose to return to Colombia.[citation needed] The barrios El Prado, Paraiso, and some others were created by Americans, also schools and universities were built by American architects such as the Universidad del Norte, the American School and many more.

When enumerated by citizenship, many Americans are from families that emigrated to the United States and then repatriated.[citation needed]

Middle Eastern[edit]

Many Arab immigrants have arrived in Colombia from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Palestine. The Arabs settled mostly in the northern coast, in cities such as Barranquilla, Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Maicao, where about 20% of the population have Arab ancestry. Gradually they began to settle inland too (except for Antioquia). Many Colombians of Arab descent derive from Catholics/Maronites from Lebanon or Syria.

Due to the Arab Spring, many Arabs arrived in Colombia seeking political asylum, particularly from Syria and Egypt.[9] Many Persian immigrants have also arrived from countries such as Iran.


Early Jewish settlers were converted Jews, known as Marranos, from Spain. In the years prior to World War II, there was a second wave of Jewish immigrants fleeing persecution from the Nazis. Most Colombian Jews live in Barranquilla, Cali, Medellín, and Bogotá. There are only nine synagogues throughout the entire country.[citation needed]


The Roma came during colonial times, often forced by the Spanish to move to South America. Roma people also came during World War I and World War II. Most of them settled in the metropolitan area of Barranquilla.[citation needed]


Spanish immigration in what is now Colombia was massive and continuous throughout the colonial period. Spanish descendants, a majority of which mixed to varying degrees with indigenous peoples over the centuries, form the bulk of the Colombian population. After a brief period in which it stopped abruptly following independence, immigration slowly resumed albeit at a much lower level. In the 20th century there was another wave of Spanish immigrants fleeing persecution from the Franquistas during and after the Spanish Civil War. Migration also spiked as a result of economic hardships in Spain during the 50s. Due to high unemployment in Spain, several hundreds of Spaniards have immigrated to Colombia for better working prospects in recent years (2008 onwards). Furthermore, several thousands of Colombians who emigrated to Spain from 1990 to 2010 (about 280,000 people) now return to Colombia, and sometimes have dual citizenship.


Italian immigration in Colombia has had place in the XIX and XX centuries. The Italian immigrant population in Colombia, is mostly located in cities such as Cartagena, Barranquilla, Cali, Medellin and Bogotá. The Italians have left some imprint in Colombian Spanish[10] and gastronomy.


Particularly in the 19th century, but also in the 20th century. Many Colombians of German heritage arrived in Colombia via Venezuela, where 19th-century German settlements have existed. They traditionally settled as farmers or professional workers in the states of Boyacá and Santander, but also in Cali, Bogotá and Barranquilla. One famous German immigrant of the 19th century was German-Jewish entrepreneur Leo Siegfried Kopp who founded the brewery Bavaria. Other German groups arrived in Colombia later: after World War I (many opticians and other professional businesses in Bogotá were founded by German immigrants in the 1910s), and after World War II, some of them Nazis or on the black list. Many of them changed their surnames for common surnames of the region. Many Germans left Colombia during the 80's.[citation needed]


In the 19th and 20th centuries many Russians went to Antioquia and Risaralda, escaping from communism and the Soviet government. The former USSR (1917-1991) included other nations like Lithuania and Ukraine.[citation needed]


During the independence of Colombia, many Irish soldiers were recruited from Dublin, London and other cities to fight with Simón Bolívar's troops to liberate Colombia from Spain. Some soldiers established themselves in Colombia and formed families. In the first half of 20th century, Irish people arrived in Colombia for a new life and as missionaries to expand the Catholic faith in the country. In the last years of the 20th century and first years of 21st century, some Irish people came to Colombia. Some came to work in the many multinational companies but a few of them[citation needed] were involved with terrorist groups like the FARC.[11]


There is a French community in Colombia, mainly concentrated in the coastal cities of Barranquilla, Cartagena, and Santa Marta, as well as in Bogotá. French immigration began in a regular pattern during the 18th and 19th century and highly influenced the country's economic and political systems (the Betancourt family is of French descent) and entertainment industry. Another example is Atanasio Girardot who was a Colombian revolutionary leader. Some WWII refugees from France came to Colombia, but often for a temporary time. Nowadays, Colombia has also become a cheap tourist or retirement destination for French citizens. Contrary to common perceptions, the frequent Colombian surname Betancourt does not signal French descent but rather descent from the Canary Islands (Spain), where it is common since the islands were conquered and submitted by Frenchman Juan de Betancourt for the Spanish crown in the 16th century.[citation needed]


The Venezuelan population in Colombia is estimated at 2,250,000, due to political instability, corruption and crime in Venezuela. Large populations of Venezuelans are found in Bogotá, Cali, Medellín, Bucaramanga, Barranquilla, Cartagena and Cúcuta. Previously Colombians had emigrated to Venezuela due to political unrest. However, during the last decade the trend has reversed and Venezuelans increasingly immigrate to Colombia.[citation needed]


Being the first country in the Americas to offer full rights to citizens of African descent, many Africans settled here during the late 19th and early 20th century.[citation needed]


The history of Colombia and Ecuador is strongly related. Many people of South Colombia (specially, the Nariño, Putumayo and Cauca Departments) share traditions with the Ecuadorian people. This has led to migration between both countries. Many Ecuadorians have come to the major cities of Colombia (Bogotá, Medellin, Cali, Bucaramanga) as merchants.[citation needed]

Numbers of people by nationality in Colombia based on 2019 official figures[edit]

Place Country 2019
1  Venezuela 2.000.094
2  United States 801.294
3  Spain 367.816
4  Ecuador 191.537
5  Chile 120.626
6  Canada 74.595
7  Panama 44.952
8  Italy 40.769
9  France 29.983
10  Australia 27.835
11  United Kingdom 26.877
12  Germany 23.583
13  Netherlands 22.450
14  Mexico 22.317
15  Costa Rica 21.583
16   Switzerland 15.844
Source: MIGRACION COLOMBIA (2019)[12]

Number of people with permanent Colombian residence by nationality[edit]

Note: only people that have lived in Colombia for at least 5 years can acquire permanent residence.

Place Country 2013
1  Venezuela 5.338
2  United States 3.693
3  Spain 2.370
4  Mexico 1.711
5  China 1.428
6  Argentina 1.117
7  Peru 1.056
8  Germany 1.006
9  Brazil 915
10  Ecuador 885
11  France 884
12  India 858
13  Portugal 800
14  Italy 747
15  Cuba 695
16  Nicaragua 651
17  Rest of the world 6.338
Source: OAS (2013)[13]

Number of people living in Colombia by Nationality 2017[edit]

Place Country Population Reference
2017 2019
1  Venezuela 48,714 1,048,714
2  United States 20,140 20,140
3  Ecuador 15,212 15,212
4  Spain 7,086 7,086
5  Peru 5,391 5,391
6  Argentina 3,419 3,419
7  Mexico 3,050 3,050
8  Italy 3,001 3,001
9  Germany 2,523 2,523
10  Brazil 2,496 2,496
11  Panama 2,208 2,208
12  France 2,203 2,203
13  China 2,176 2,176
14  Chile 2,162 2,162
15  Cuba 1,945 1,945
16  United Kingdom 1,322 1,322
17  Lebanon 1,253 1,253
18  Costa Rica 1,128 1,128
19  Canada 1,051 1,051
20  Bolivia 874 874
21  Japan 771 771
22   Switzerland 725 725
23  Russia 719 719
24  Nicaragua 611 611
25  Israel 500 500
26  Guatemala 490 490
27  Belgium 464 464
28  Uruguay 464 464
29  Dominican Republic 410 410
30  El Salvador 409 409
31  Honduras 376 376
32  Netherlands 376 376
 South Korea 292 292
 Poland 272 272
 Ukraine 241 241
 Romania 236 236
 Australia 234 234
 Paraguay 231 231
 Austria 222 222
 Vanuatu 221 221
 North Korea 213 213
 Sweden 194 194
 Jordan 190 190
 India 153 153
 Hungary 149 149
 Egypt 149 149
 Syria 145 145
 Ireland 139 139
 Iran 125 125
 Greece 124 124
 Haiti 122 122
 Afghanistan 122 122
 Portugal 121 121
 Philippines 102 102
 Equatorial Guinea 100 100
 Maldives 90 90
Country 2017
 Jamaica 63
 Trinidad and Tobago 39
 Puerto Rico 50
 Saint Lucia 38
 Barbados 30
 Antigua and Barbuda 20
 Saint Kitts and Nevis 10
 Belize 20
 Curaçao 40
 Aruba 20
Total 7.348
Source: MacroDatos (2017)[14]

South America

Country 2017
 Guyana 20
 Suriname 35
Total 79.098
Source: MacroDatos (2017)[14]


Country 2017
 Luxembourg 23
 Czech Republic 41
 Slovenia 30
 Croatia 60
 Albania 52
 Bulgaria 90
 Lithuania 48
 Latvia 20
 Estonia 22
 Finland 50
 Norway 87
 Andorra 49
 Malta 30
 Iceland 30
 Slovakia 80
 Serbia 85
 Armenia 40
 Georgia 30
 Cyprus 30
 Bosnia and Herzegovina 40
 North Macedonia 20
 San Marino 30
Total 21.104
Source: MacroDatos (2017)[14]


Country 2017
 Turkey 50
 Iraq 23
 Saudi Arabia 74
 United Arab Emirates 42
 Pakistan 43
 Indonesia 88
 Bangladesh 50
 Sri Lanka 30
 Timor-Leste 30
 Yemen 30
 Mongolia 70
 Thailand 74
 Hong Kong 70
 Vietnam 74
Total 6.660
Source: MacroDatos (2017)[14]


Country 2017
 Algeria 26
 Morocco 74
 Nigeria 49
 Angola 56
 South Africa 56
 Mali 40
 Senegal 35
 Cameroon 30
 Democratic Republic of the Congo 20
 Cape Verde 40
 Sierra Leone 35
 Guinea 30
 Ghana 38
 Gambia 30
 Somalia 60
 Ethiopia 40
 Eritrea 30
 Ivory Coast 40
 Liberia 28
 Republic of the Congo 50
Total 928
Source: MacroDatos (2017)[14]


Country 2017
 Australia 234
 Vanuatu 221
 New Zealand 54
Total 509
Source: MacroDatos (2017)[14]

Total 138,920

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World by William A. Douglass, Jon Bilbao, P.167
  3. ^ a b c Possible paradises: Basque emigration to Latin America by José Manuel Azcona Pastor, P.203
  4. ^ a b c Latin America during World War II by Thomas M. Leonard, John F. Bratzel, P.117
  5. ^ Watson, Jim. "SCADTA Joins the Fight". Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d (in Spanish) La comunidad musulmana de Maicao (Colombia)
  7. ^ a b c d e (in Spanish) Luis Angel Arango Library: Los sirio-libaneses en Colombia Archived 2006-10-25 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Fleischer, F (2012). "La diáspora china: un acercamiento a la migración china en Colombia". Revista de Estudios Sociales. 42 (42): 71–79. doi:10.7440/res42.2012.07.
  9. ^ "[1]". UNHCR News Stories. June 24, 2013.
  10. ^ Litaliano in Colombia (in Italian)
  11. ^ Edmundo Murray, The Irish in Colombia
  12. ^ Vidal, Roberto (2013). "Chapter III: Public Policies on Migration in Colombia" (PDF). In Chiarello, Leonir Mario (ed.). Public Policies on Migration and Civil Society in Latin America: The Cases of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico (PDF) (1st ed.). New York: Scalabrini International Migration Network. pp. 263–410. ISBN 978-0-9841581-5-7. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 March 2015. Retrieved 26 December 2017.
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b c d e f

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Massey, Douglas S., Arango, Joaquín, Graeme, Hugo, Kouaouci, Ali, Pellegrino, Adela and Taylor, J. Edward (2005), Worlds in Motion: Understanding International Migration at the End of the Millennium, New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-928276-5.