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Chile - Trends and characteristics of Chilean migration policy since the late twentieth century to the present

Description of immigration policy and management in Chile (1990-2010)

Immigration policy and management in Chile are oriented to regulate the immigration process in such a manner that they benefit both the immigrants as well as the communities of origin and destination. This policy is inspired by the Human Rights of Migrant Persons and the synergetic relationship of migration with mankind’s development and security.  Additionally, this policy proposes to prevent and combat the negative side-effects of migration, such as Trafficking in Persons, and the Illicit Smuggling of Migrants.

Currently, Chile is experiencing a “new immigration.” This immigration is a recent trend and comes principally from within South America. Its main features are its spontaneity and the labour driven objective of migrants characterised principally by social and labour habits that are predominantly urban in nature. It involves primarily female immigration and which, in the country, takes the form of employment in the sectors related to manual labour, construction, industry and domestic service as well as, although to a lesser degree, professionals.  

From the point of view of the evolution of immigration policy and management, within the context of constantly growing migration flows, it is possible to visualise the progressive incorporation of concepts related to the integration of immigrants into Chilean society by the actions taken by the government. In this manner, it can be observed that the reforms to migration legislation in the 1990s lead to the modernisation of migration management, the execution of commitments to the human rights of migrant workers, and even the incorporation of explicit commitments related to migration matters in a government program. This evolution in the way in which international immigration is viewed allowed for the enactment, in 2008, of a Presidential Directive on National Immigration Policy, that defines Chile as a fostering country, adequately open to immigrant flows within a context of respect towards democratic institutionalisation, the Constitution, and the laws.

Having as a reference the international commitments that Chile has assumed in this matter, with special attention to the International Convention of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Their Families, the Presidential Directive incorporates a series of focal points that guide government action, such as bilateral and multilateral treatment of the migration phenomena under the perspective of shared responsibility; the need to promote safe migration, and also to grant differentiated treatment to persons that are especially vulnerable, such as refugees and asylum seekers. Together, with the above, the Directive defines a series of principles that must guide state action, highlighting that its application transcends the regularisation of the migration status of the migrant worker.

Within a more specific setting, from the perspective of the evolution of migration policy in Chile, it should be mentioned that during the Government of President Patricio Aylwin (1990-1994), the first process of updating migration legislation was developed, introducing important modifications to the law that allowed the adoption of international commitments assumed by Chile related to refugees, as well as to generate a regulatory framework that responded to the greater movement of foreign citizens towards Chile. Similarly, the first program to Support Return (Apoyo al Retorno) was implemented, mainly benefiting persons who were victims of exile and violations of their human rights during the military government (1973-1990).

Confronting the challenge of the “new immigration”, the Government of President Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle (1995-2000) performed the first extraordinary process of migratory regularisation that, in its first phase, benefited around 23,000 foreign citizens with temporary residency permits, and was consolidated with the granting of close to 18,000 definitive permanency permits.

The Government of President Ricardo Lagos (2001-2006), promoted management modernisation from a policy and technical perspective. In the political environment, it created a migration policy commission that prepared a first draft summary of the Government’s vision regarding international migration.

Also, as part of the migration policy developed during this period, Chile ratified the Convention on Migration Workers and Their Family Members, as well as the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Sanction Trafficking in Persons, and the Protocol Against Illicit Trafficking of Migrants, complementary to the Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime.

These initiatives would serve as the basis for the establishment of the objectives that in the migration setting would be defined by the Government agenda of President Bachelet.

Another initiative was the decision by the authorities regarding the recognition of nationality of sons and daughters born abroad of a father and/or mother of Chilean nationality. To that effect, constitutional reform was carried out regarding nationality, incorporating the principle of ius sanguinis, which makes it possible for sons and daughters of Chileans born abroad, to also be recognized as Chileans.

During the government of President Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010) explicit references to migration matter were incorporated. A significant milestone was the commitment to confront irregular migration, for which the Chilean Government spear-headed a second extraordinary process of regularisation, carried out between October 2007 and February 2008. Through this process migrants of Latin American and Caribbean nationality in irregular status could request residency permit in the country. This process allowed 49 thousand immigrants to regularise their residency status.

As an expression of will to state explicitly a position on migration, on September 2, 2008, the President of the Republic issued the “Instructions regarding National Migration Policy” (“Instrucciones sobre la Política Nacional Migratoria”). These instructions constitute the basis of migration management during the Bachelet government. The principles that inspire migration management and the rights to safeguard are outlined in this document. It highlights that the vision regarding migration flows in Chile should be seen from the point of view of human rights, defines Chile as a fostering country of migrants, and points out that “Chile as a country adequately open to migrations, seeks the non-discriminatory reception of migrants that decide to reside in the country, in accordance with the International Conventions and Treaties in force and executed by Chile.”[i]  

Main guidelines of migration management for the 2010- 2014 period

The 2010- 2014 Government Agenda of President Sebastián Piñera establishes in chapter IV, “Towards a society of values with quality of life: Strengthening Human Rights”  (“Hacia una sociedad de valores con calidad de vida”), a special concern for immigrants, fundamentally regarding the establishment of a clear policy against discrimination and in favour of equal treatment in a democratic society.

The Government Agenda indicates that state policy on matters of protection and promotion of Human Rights outlines concerns about, among others, the following aspects:

  • Strengthening and broadening the rights of persons, reinforcing its regulatory and institutional commitment, endeavouring in addition to include dimensions not covered, and insuring in this manner a more pluralistic and integrated society.
  • Correction or eradication of obstacles, requirements, or regulations that impede full validity and enjoyment of the rights of persons.
  • Promoting a policy of dissemination of human rights for a better knowledge and valuation of society.
  • Promoting a policy of respect of all persons, regardless of their religious, political, sexual orientation, or ethnic or racial origin, keeping vigil over non-existence of arbitrary discriminations against minorities.

Together with the general criteria established in the Government Agenda, observation of the reality of immigration in Chile reveals a diagnosis that considers the following aspects:

  • The legal framework that regulates immigration in Chile dates to the year 1975, and, therefore, does not take into account the reality of the international movement of persons that confronts the country today.
  • There exists the need to strengthen public agencies in charge of managing the migration phenomenon.
  • A growing need to coordinate various state actors to respond to the immigrant population requirements in Chile is observed.
  • A weakness in the use and development of information technologies that serve to improve management and attention to users of migration services is noted.

Given this diagnosis, the Government Agenda outlines the following challenges related to migration matters:

  • The definition of a modern immigration policy, which translates into the implementation of the new Migration and Immigration Act, and incorporates: guiding principles for migration management; that allows for the modernisation of residency categories; and for the adaptation of regulations to international covenants executed by Chile.
  • The preparation of a Modernisation Plan that attempts to improve the management of the migration system in Chile, and that incorporates: advances in the development of information technologies that allow opportune and secure responses; reduction in response times for users; improvements to information systems available to users; and improvements to communications between public entities involved in migration management, with the goal to attain a greater interoperability between system actors.

The implementation of Law N° 20.430 of April 15, 2010, that establishes provisions regarding the protection of refugees, by carrying out initiatives, such as: the application of the Regulation of the Law that establishes measures for the protection of refugees, dictated by Decree N° 837 of the Ministry of the Interior, that is in the last stage of the office of the Comptroller General of the Republic; the improvement of response times to applicants seeking asylum, and to further advance in topics related to refugees integration in Chile and the search for lasting solutions, in coordination with state agencies and civil society organisations working in the field.