Over the past two years the Migration Unit of the IADB, in collaboration with the OECD Migration Division, compiled and analyzed a new database of residence permits issued in the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean over the period 2015-2019. The database includes data from 15 countries of the region and represents all subregions, disaggregated by nationality of the migrant, by type of permit, and in some cases by gender of the migrant.
The result of that work is the report Migration Flows in Latin America and the Caribbean that has been recently presented and that describes the general trends and patterns in the flows of migrants as these are reflected in the administrative records of the countries.
These are the main observations that emerge from the analysis of the database:
- The crisis in Venezuela is the overriding factor in LAC migration over the past five years. In this period, more than 1.75 million permits have been issued in LAC countries to Venezuelans as more than 3.9 million were estimated to have left their country in that period for other countries of the region. These migrants have dramatically affected not just the number of migrants in the destination countries, but also their migration systems and migration policy frameworks as new residence permit types and procedures were created to integrate the large numbers of migrants into the formal economies and societies of the region.
- The five years from 2015 to 2019 have seen a continuing reorientation of migrant destinations in LAC – even excluding the large effects of Venezuelan migrants. Colombia and Peru have seen their shares of intra-regional migrants increase significantly over the period, by ten percentage points each, as the share going to Argentina and Mexico fell by 13 percentage points and four percentage points, respectively. Even when calculated excluding Venezuelans, Chile’s share of intra-regional migrants increased by eight percentage points over the period. Meanwhile, immigrants from outside LAC also declined, from 26% to 14% percent of total immigrants, falling as low as 9% in 2018 before rebounding in 2019.
- The decline observed in the share of migrants from outside LAC is not only a relative one. There has also been a marked decline in flows from outside the region in absolute terms as well. Total migrants from outside the region fell by over 40 thousand per year, from nearly 250 thousand in 2015 to under 208 thousand in 2019. Immigrants from Europe fell the most, a decline of over 25 thousand per year, accompanied by declines in immigration from Asia and North America of around 15% each. While statistics from a five- year period that includes one of the largest displacements of people in history is an imperfect measure, the reorientation of regional migration patterns suggests the beginnings of a transition of LAC from a region that is predominantly a source of emigrants to one that is more mixed, with greater intra-regional flows.
- Meanwhile, emigration from LAC to OECD countries outside the region increased significantly. Total emigration to extra-regional OECD countries was 45% higher in 2018 (the latest year for which data are available) than in 2015. Principal destinations include the United States, Canada, Spain, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. The growth is driven not only by Venezuelans. Emigration from the four Southern Cone countries of Mercosur, along with Colombia and Peru in the Andean region, and Honduras and Nicaragua in Central America, all increased more than the regional average, collectively increasing 55% over the period. Only Panama and the three countries of the Caribbean covered in this report show declining emigration to outside the region. The growth of the regional diaspora in these countries increases the base for future knowledge transfers and increasing remittances.
- The data also demonstrate the importance of regional mobility schemes, especially the Mercosur Residence Permit but also permits for skilled and self-employed Caribbean Nationals under the CARICOM framework. Both programs play a significant role in enabling movement of persons within the respective regions. In Brazil, more than three quarters of migrants from eligible countries use the Mercosur Residence Permit, and over two thirds in Bolivia. Lower but still significant figures of 40% and 35% are observed in Peru and Colombia. In Barbados, over 100 CARICOM nationals per year obtain residence under the Right of Establishment or under the CARICOM Skilled Nationals program, where women disproportionately benefit.
- Finally, among the large numbers of Venezuelan migrants in recent years are many without a formal status in their countries of destination. Despite the solidarity shown by countries of the region in receiving these migrants, there are still many who lack regular permits. A comparison of the numbers of permits granted to Venezuelans in the database with estimates from the R4V platform at the end of 2019 show a gap of over 1.1 million people, or 31% of displaced Venezuelans; most are presumed to be without documents enabling them to work in the formal sector and providing access to fundamental social services. While an important part of this gap will be reduced by the regularization announced by Colombia in late 2020, this is still an issue in several countries.
The statistics compiled for the report have been harmonized according to the permanent/temporary nature of the permits granted, which is a distinction made in all countries of the region and is a key feature of virtually all migration regimes across the globe. This approach has been followed in preference to the 1998 UN recommendations on migration statistics, which distinguish between long-term and short-term migration on the basis of a one-year cut-off. Although statistics on the basis of the latter are highly useful for demographic analyses, the one-year cut-off does not reflect any fundamental feature of migration systems and requires, to achieve harmonization across countries, a whole-scale reclassification of national statistics, rendering them unrecognizable to national stakeholders. This can be a handicap if the objective is to engage in meaningful discussions and exchanges with regard to migration regimes and movements. On the other hand, every effort has been made to collect statistics by category of migration (employment, study, family reunification, free establishment, humanitarian, etc.), which is a feature also present in the UN recommendations, but one not commonly observed in international data collection efforts.
Although reliance on administrative records will not, by definition, cover migrants in irregular situations, figures based on residence permits are currently the only available measure of these flows, and such figures can potentially contribute to better estimates of the population without regular status. Still needed is more complete coverage of the countries of the region, a better disaggregation by gender and other characteristics, and better identification of renewals and status changes to enable more precise measures of migrant populations and their evolution. This is an ongoing project for which the statistics are expected to improve in future editions.