Immigration to Colombia

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, 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 drastic improvements in quality of life, security, and economic opportunities. Colombia is also experiencing a large wave of illegal immigrants from South Asia.


Colonial period

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.[1] 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.[1] Within 100 years after the first Spanish settlement, nearly 95 percent of all Native Americans in Colombia had died.[1] The majority of the deaths of Native Americans were the cause of diseases such as measles and smallpox, which were spread by European settlers.[1] Many Native Americans were also killed by armed conflicts with European settlers.[1]

White European (Spanish colonist) settlement focused mainly in the Andean highlands and 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, Europeans intermarried often with indigenous peoples (i.e. the Chibchas), and sometimes with African slaves to produce a mixed-race population which are the majority of people in Colombia today.

Immigration from Europe

Colombia was one of early focus of Basque immigration. 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

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 Maronite Christians from Greater Syria (Syria and Lebanon) 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.

Immigration by origin

Chinese and other Asian

The city of Cali has the largest Asian community because of its proximity to the Pacific Coast; 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.

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.

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. 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

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. 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.

Middle Eastern

Many Arab immigrants have arrived in Colombia from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Iran/Persia (Iran is not an Arab country) 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]


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.


Gypsies came during colonial times, often forced by the Spanish to move to South America. Gypsies also came during World War I and World War II. Most of them settled in the metropolitan area of Barranquilla.


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 was in XIX and XX . The Italian immigrant population in Colombia, is mostly in cities such as Cartagena, Barranquilla, Cali, Medellin and Bogotá. The Italians have left some imprint in the Colombian language[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.


In the 19th and 20th century many Russians went to Antioquia and Risaralda, Colombia; in the 20th century they came to escape communism and the Soviet government. The former USSR (1917-1991) included other nations like Lithuania and Ukraine.


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 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 19th century and highly influenced the country's economic and political systems (the Betancourt family are of French descent) and entertainment industry. 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.


The Venezuelan population in Colombia is increasing, due to political instability and crime in their country. 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.


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.


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.

Numbers of people by nationality in Colombia according 2005 census

Place Country 2005
1  Venezuela 204,350
2  United States 60,094
3  Ecuador 28,404
4  Spain 22,312
5  Peru 14,042
6   Undeclared 2,872
7  Argentina 12,563
8  Mexico 12,286
9  Italy 8,250
10  Germany 7,892
11  Brazil 5,873
12  Panama 5,656
13  France 4,652
14  China 3,632
15  Chile 3,622
16  Rest of the world 46,471
Source: DANE (2005)[12]

Number of people by nationality and descendants of 1st and 2nd generation


Place Country 2016
1  Spain 249,100
2  Italy 147,000
3  Germany 142,000
4  France 137,000
5  United Kingdom 130,000
6  Russia 124,000
7  Netherlands 95,000
8   Switzerland 71,000
9  Yugoslavia 45,000
10  Ukraine 24,000
11  Poland 23,000
12  Czech Republic 20,000
13  Lithuania 18,000
14  Portugal 15,000
15  Republic of Ireland 13,500
16  Greece 12,000
17  Armenia 11,000
18  Sweden 10,800
19  Hungary 10,500
20  Turkey 9,000
21  Romania 8,500
22  Norway 8,000
23  Austria 7,500
24  Belgium 6,400
25  Finland 5,000
26  Estonia 4,000
27  Albania 3,000
28  Denmark 2,200
29  Bulgaria 1,500


Place Country 2016
1  Venezuela 2,500,000
2  United States 107,000
3  Ecuador 52,000
4  Peru 40,000
5  Panama 31,000
6  Brazil 30,000
7  Mexico 26,000
8  Argentina 22,000
9  Cuba 17,000
10  Chile 15,200
11  Bolivia 11,500
12  Paraguay 10,000
13  Nicaragua 8,650
14  Costa Rica 7,100
15  Canada 5,000
16  Dominican Republic 4,100
17  Jamaica 3,500
18  Aruba 2,500
19  Honduras 2,000
20  Guatemala 1,900
21  El Salvador 1,700
22  Uruguay 1,500


Place Country 2016
1  China 105,000
2  Lebanon 56,000
3  Japan 45,000
4  India 31,500
5  Palestine 27,000
6  Syria 22,000
7  South Korea 17,000
8  Philippines 12,000
9  Indonesia 9,700
10  Iran 9,200
11  Thailand 9,000
12  Vietnam 8,410
13  Jordan 7,650
14  Singapore 7,100
15  Pakistan 6,150
16  Myanmar 5,400
17  Iraq 4,500
18  Cambodia 3,800
19  Azerbaijan 3,100
20  Hong Kong 2,850
21  Bangladesh 2,400
22  Kazakhstan 2,050
23  Malaysia 2,010
24  Saudi Arabia 1,950
25  United Arab Emirates 1,700
26  Israel 1,640
27  Kuwait 1,610
28  Mongolia 1,400
29  Macau 1,250
30  Afghanistan 1,010

Number of people with permanent Colombian residence by nationality

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  Italy 747
14  Cuba 695
15  Nicaragua 651
16  Rest of the world 6.338
Source: OAS (2013)[13]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5
  2. 1 2 3 Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World by William A. Douglass, Jon Bilbao, P.167
  3. 1 2 3 Possible paradises: Basque emigration to Latin America by José Manuel Azcona Pastor, P.203
  4. 1 2 3 Latin America during World War II by Thomas M. Leonard, John F. Bratzel, P.117
  6. 1 2 3 4 (Spanish) La comunidad musulmana de Maicao (Colombia)
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 (Spanish) Luis Angel Arango Library: Los sirio-libaneses en Colombia
  8. Fleischer, F (2012). "La diáspora china: un acercamiento a la migración china en Colombia". Revista de Estudios Sociales. 42: 71–79. doi:10.7440/res42.2012.07.
  9. "". UNHCR News Stories. June 24, 2013.
  10. Litaliano in Colombia (in Italian)
  11. Edmundo Murray, The Irish in Colombia
  12. Lugar de nacimiento (Spanish) DANE

Further reading

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 8/25/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.