Chile: The Ordeal Of Migrants


In 1992, Chile recorded 100,000 immigrants; in 2013, there were more than 400,000; and today, slightly under half million. They have settled mainly in the Metropolitan Region, Valparaíso, and in the big north, and they work mostly in services, mining, industry, agriculture, construction, health and education.

According to the National Socio-Economic Characterization Survey 2009 (CASEN), 54 percent of the immigrants are women. For the Department of Immigration and Naturalization (DEM) the total number of immigrants represents 2.08 percent of the national population of 18 million people. A 73 percent corresponds to South American immigration from: Peru (31.7 percent), Argentina (16.3 percent), Bolivia (8.8 percent), Colombia (6.1 percent), Ecuador (4.7 percent), Brazil (3 percent), and Venezuela (1.9 percent), according to 2016 figures.

In 2005, Chile ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, adopted by the United Nations in 1990, but domestic legislation has not yet adapted to the international regulation. Chile’s legislation does not guarantee the principle of family reunification established in article 44 of the Convention. Another abnormal situation is that of children whose parents are in irregular situation; they are classified as “children of visitor foreigners,” something that tramples the International Convention on Children’s Rights, as this gives rise to stateless children, also denying them access to children protection public policies.

The flow of migrants from Colombia and Haiti has increased in the last few years. Social and cultural prejudices, classism and racism — that operates equally against Chilean population of low income, Mapuche or other indigenous peoples — affect in particular Colombian, Dominican and Haitian Afro-descendants. However, the average education level of migrants is 12.6 years, higher than that of working-age Chileans, which is 10.3 years.

The migrant population represents 5 percent of the labor force (CASEN 2013), and 65 percent work as employees or laborers; 62 percent work in the private sector, and 8.4 percent do domestic work; of the migrant women (34 percent work in this category, under minimum working and wage conditions, informality and noncompliance with the law). According to the DEM, in 2011, while 70 percent of males are employed, only 48 percent of the women had a contract.

In the opinion of Manuel Hidalgo, Peruvian economist and head of the Association of Immigrants for Latin American and Caribbean Integration (APILA), the administrative barriers are caused by the complexity that Chile has when processing the recognition of academic titles and degrees obtained abroad.

“It is a complex case in regards to Haiti, a country with which Chile has no agreements on the matter,” he tells Latinamerica Press. “It only has agreements with 12 countries. There is another barrier present when it comes to access jobs as a professional in the public sector, as for many of them, a requirement is to be a naturalized citizen. Socio-cultural barriers are mistrust, social and cultural prejudice from employers that is linked to a sort of nationalism mixed with racism, which makes it difficult to properly asses the competence, skills, level of education, qualification and experience of the immigrants.”

Holding centers

Rodolfo Noriega, a lawyer and president of the Committee of Peruvian Refugees in Chile, tells Latinamerica Press that “the Migration Bill has a Secret Registry of Immigrants dependent of the Interior Ministry. Why having a special registry? If it is entrusted to the police and they are the only ones with access to it, it is obvious that they are linking the presence of immigrants with a security issue.”

Particularly worrying, he adds, is that there are special holding centers: “We identified one at Calle Seminario 11, in Santiago. The police had to acknowledge this to the Human Rights Commission of the Senate. The national head of the International Police had to acknowledge that it was a holding center for foreigners.”

Hidalgo says that “the migration project that President [Michelle] Bachelet pledged to send in her government program, in substitution of the one that [former President Sebastián] Piñera submitted for administrative process during his government [2010-2014], has not been sent yet. Piñera submitted it in 2013 and was unanimously rejected by academia, religious organizations working with migrants — Jesuit Migrant Service and Scalabrinian Network —, as well as organizations from all migrant communities; reason why the process bogged down indefinitely.”

“In 2014 [at the start of the Bachelet presidency], Rodrigo Sandoval, the new head of the DEM, pushed for a participatory consultancy process to generate a new project, with regional meetings and extensive dialogue with academia, migrant defense organizations and the migrant communities themselves. The indication at the end of 2014 was that the project that came out of the consulting process would be submitted for administrative process in the first semester of 2015. It is two years later, and this still has not happened,” he adds.

With their sights on the presidential elections this November, the right wing has started using a xenophobic discourse as an elections pitch. The last survey of the non-governmental Center of Public Studies (CEP), of April/May 2017, reveals that the appreciation of the cultural and economic contribution of migration, as well as their right to access education under equal conditions, “is gaining increasing popularity in Chilean society, diluting the myth that ‘they take away jobs from Chileans’. But it also points out that the perception that ‘migrants raise the crime rates’, has risen to 41 percent. This goes to show the impact of the propaganda from the right-wing populism, clearly chauvinist, that pretends to take advantage of this issue for the elections,” states Hidalgo.

No respect for human rights

In Revista Sur, journalist Bárbara Barrera, denounced that in Calle San Luis, in the community of Quilicura, nearly one-hundred immigrants live in “overcrowded conditions, in a 5 square meters room that costs them 130,000 pesos a month (US$195), where they share two bathrooms and a kitchen. Guedelin Orzil, Haitian, had to give birth in a wheelchair in San José Hospital, because the healthcare personnel did not tend to her. Her infant son fell onto the floor and the hospital did not run any tests. Situations like these ones put in evidence the need for public policies to make it possible to improve the quality of lives of immigrants.”

According to Noriega, the joint report of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) “Employment Situation in Latin America and the Caribbean,” published on May 11, provides a piece of already confirmed information: 79 percent of immigrants in Chile have an education level of 10 years or more, but a big majority work performing manual labor and domestic work.

“There are a series of barriers preventing immigrants with qualifications and specializations to find employment in their professions or fields,” Noriega says. “The first one is to have a formalized residence and identity documents. Another problem is the recognition of studies and degrees. So basically this situations of over-qualification converge with an irregular immigration status, the no recognition of completed studies, a situation that affects all, but mostly Peruvians, Colombians and Bolivians, and in particular the language barrier that affects non-Spanish speakers like Haitians, Nepalese, Filipinos and Africans.”

Noriega explains that Law Decree 1.094, or Immigration Law, is a migration model based on selectivity, to prefer certain immigrants over others for their qualifications and their contribution to the “national interest,” as the Law literally states, and adds that this model adheres, in very close fashion, to projects of both Piñera and Bachelet. Both projects “have a vision of service to the market-based system, an economic-based approach, putting aside the so called ‘rights approach’, that they misunderstand on purpose, I believe.”

On his part, Hidalgo says that the biggest majority of immigrants occupy underestimated jobs: “Jobs no longer wanted by the domestic workforce or those where there is a definite supply deficit, such as nannies or the health sector. It is not easy for them to access employment that their degrees and work experience make them qualified, because there are administrative and socio-cultural barriers.”

Many of them send remittances to their countries, disregarding their own life conditions: they live in tenements, in overcrowded conditions, lacking sanitary conditions, among others. For years, the migrant communities have been demanding the regularization of their migratory visas, an amnesty for those who are in an irregular situation, a measure that Chile already took in 1997 and 2007-2008.

Latinamerica Press

Latinamerica Press is a product of Comunicaciones Aliadas, a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Lima, Peru, specializing in the production of information and analysis about events across Latin America and the Caribbean with a focus on rights, while strengthening the communications skills of local social leaders.

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