Immigration to Colombia

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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.


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 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 Lebanese 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 say 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, flows 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 which 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 to 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 increasing, due to political instability, corruption and crime in Venezuela. Large populations of Venezuelans are found in Bogotá, Cali, Medellín, Bucaramanga, and Cúcuta. Whilst in the past up to two million Colombians have emigrated to Venezuela in search for better living conditions, in the first ten years of the 21st century 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 2015 official figures[edit]

Place Country 2015
1  Venezuela 819,034 - 1,032,016 (2018)[12]
2  United States 18,841
3  Ecuador 14,232
4  Spain 6,629
5  Peru 5,044
6  Argentina 3,199
7  Mexico 2,854
8  Italy 2,808
9  Germany 2,361
10  Brazil 2,337
11  Panama 1,656
12  France 1,652
13  China 1,632
14  Chile 1,622
15  Cuba 1,459
16  Rest of the world 17,844
Source: DANE (2005 and cancilleria 2018)[13]

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)[14]

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

North America

Country 2017
 United States 20.140
 Canada 1.051
 Mexico 3.050
Total 24.241
Source: MacroDatos (2017)[15]

Central America and Caribbean

Country 2017
 Guatemala 490
 El Salvador 409
 Honduras 376
 Nicaragua 611
 Costa Rica 1.128
 Panama 2.208
 Cuba 1.954
 Haiti 122
 Dominican Republic 410
 Jamaica 63
 Trinidad and Tobago 39
Total 7,810
Source: MacroDatos (2017)[16]

South America

Country 2017
 Venezuela 48.829
 Ecuador 15.212
 Peru 5.391
 Brazil 2.496
 Argentina 3.419
 Paraguay 231
 Uruguay 464
 Bolivia 874
 Chile 2.162
 Guyana 20
Total 79,098
Source: MacroDatos (2017)[17]


Country 2017
 Portugal 121
 Spain 7,086
 France 2,203
 Belgium 464
 Netherlands 376
 Luxembourg 23
 United Kingdom 1,322
 Ireland 139
 Germany 2,523
  Switzerland 725
 Austria 222
 Italy 3,001
 Czech Republic 41
 Hungary 149
 Slovenia 30
 Croatia 60
 Albania 52
 Greece 124
 Bulgaria 90
 Romania 236
 Ukraine 241
 Poland 272
 Russia 719
 Lithuania 48
 Latvia 20
 Estonia 22
 Finland 50
 Sweden 194
 Norway 87
 Andorra 49
Total 20,689
Source: MacroDatos (2017)[18]


Country 2017
 Turkey 50
 Syria 145
 Lebanon 1.253
 Jordan 190
 Israel 500
 Iraq 23
 Saudi Arabia 74
 United Arab Emirates 42
 Iran 125
 Afghanistan 122
 Pakistan 43
 India 153
 China 2,176
 North Korea 213
 South Korea 292
 Japan 771
 Philippines 102
 Indonesia 88
Total 6,172
Source: MacroDatos (2017)[19]


Country 2017
 Egypt 149
 Algeria 26
 Morocco 74
 Nigeria 49
 Angola 56
 South Africa 56
Total 410
Source: MacroDatos (2017)[20]


Country 2017
 Australia 234
 Vanuatu 221
 New Zealand 54
Total 509
Source: MacroDatos (2017)[21]

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. ^ "Todo lo que quiere saber sobre la migración venezolana y no se lo han contado". Migracion Colombia. November 1, 2018. Retrieved January 23, 2019.
  13. ^ 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. Retrieved 26 December 2017.
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^

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.