Ecuador - Trends and characteristics of the Ecuadorian migration policy since the late twentieth century to the present

The extraordinary growth of Ecuadorian emigration flows, primarily to Spain, the United States, and Italy as of 1998, as well as the reception of immigration flows coming from Colombia and Peru, as of the first years of the 2000’s, generated attention towards topics related to the migratory phenomenon in the political, social, and academic areas.

Following is a brief description and analysis of the Ecuadorian migratory policy, based on the main laws enacted by the legislative branch, the main migration decrees, plans, and policies directed by the executive branch, as well as the transcendental agreements and conventions executed by Ecuador. In addition, will be analyzed the institutions in charge of migration management. The description presented is not totally exhaustive due to extension reasons, but attempts to be sufficiently illustrative to present the main trends in matters of migratory policy in Ecuador in the recent past.

The attention that obtained the phenomenon of growing migratory flows from and to Ecuador during the 90’s, triggered the discussion in the legislative branch of numerous bills, with the peculiarity that laws approved referred to very specific aspects, such as crimes linked to migration, and the right to vote by citizens residing abroad, without a more comprehensive vision of the phenomenon.

Some of the laws enacted were: a) Reform Law of Penal Code Nº 2000-20 in which is categorized illegal trafficking of migrants; b) Codification 2005-06 of the 1971 Migration Act, in which the Penal Code is reformed increasing the sentences for the crimes of illegal human trafficking and trafficking in persons; and c) Organic Act Nº 2002-81, to exercise the right to vote for president and vice president.

The Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador was approved in 2008, and contains several articles pertaining to human mobility that have already been analyzed in the previous section. The provisions of the new Constitution incorporate the contents of various international instruments executed and ratified by Ecuador, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Migrants (ratified in 2002). This great advance in regulatory matters at the constitutional level leads to the need to reconcile current legislation on migration issues, despite recent modifications to the Immigration Act in the year 2004, and the Migration Act in 2005.

Within this context, and with the purpose to prepare a bill regarding Comprehensive Human Mobility Act, was created at the state level a promotional group in which participate the National Secretariat of the Migrant, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Integration, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry Coordinator of Internal and External Security, Ministry of National Defense, Technical Office of Plan Ecuador, and the Ecuadorian Agency for International Cooperation. Also have participated in this process civil society networks and organizations, such as the Coalition for Migration and Refuge, and the Migration, Communication and Development Plan. 

At the Executive Branch level also were prepared various plans and policies:

a) National Plan of Ecuadorians Abroad. December 2001. Some of its objectives are (Serrano Salgado, 2006):

  1. Establish the presence of the national State to guarantee the validity of fundamental rights of Ecuadorian emigrants abroad, providing them the alternative to fully organize their residency abroad within regulatory status, both regarding their survival economic activity, as well as their positive integration process to the receptor setting.
  2. The Government of Ecuador, pursuant to its plans of social development, and in collaboration with the civil society and international technical cooperation organizations, will provide its support for preferential attention of Ecuadorian families that have emigrated abroad.
  3. The Ecuadorian State will have among its objectives to reinforce its bonds with States receptor of Ecuadorian emigrants with the purpose to prepare coordinated and joint actions to design and apply programs in their favor.

b) In the year 2004, the Executive Branch enacted Decree 1981, in which is declared priority policy the fight against crimes of trafficking in persons and illegal trafficking of migrants, sexual and labor exploitation, and other forms of exploitation and prostitution of women, boys, girls, and adolescents.

The 2006-2020 Foreign Policy National Plan of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Ecuador, in which are established the following migratory policy guidelines:

  1. Bring about development and application of international law of the protection of human rights of migrants without any discrimination whatsoever.
  2.  Propel the development of international institutions in charge of taking care in priority manner the status of migrant workers and their family members, according to their situation of special vulnerability.
  3. Strengthen the use of the means provided by international law to achieve the respect of such rights, which includes the use of international courts.
  4. Support that the greatest number possible of States adhere to existing international treaties, and will work for the establishment of new commitments on the subject matter.
  5. Undertake updating of the national legislation that regulates migratory and immigration issues, so it includes a legal and institutional framework that protects families, boys, girls, and adolescents.
  6. Evaluate the cooperation and promote the negotiation of bilateral or multilateral agreements that favor an efficient migration management, and the adoption of practices to reduce the times of response to migratory formalities. It is imperative and urgent the preparation of action plans to deal with in a comprehensive manner the migratory phenomenon.
  7. Develop programs with governments and international organizations to facilitate the social and labor insertion of immigrant workers in Ecuadorian society, with strict respect to their rights.

c) 2007-2010 National Plan of Human Development for Migrations, prepared by the National Secretariat of the Migrant (SENAMI), the Presidency of the Republic as the guiding office for State policies, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Secretariat for Planning and Development, civil society organizations, and migrants’ organizations.

 The Plan establishes the following guiding ethical principles:

  1. There are no illegal human beings. There exist illegal practices that threaten the rights of persons.
  2.  Is recognized the fundamental labor performed daily by migrant persons in the country’s economic and social development, and in the places where they currently reside.
  3.  In the same manner in which are demanded the rights of those that live in other countries, Ecuador promotes the recognition of the rights of immigrants that reside in the country.
  4. Design, execution, and evaluation of public migratory policies are built on the basis of principles of joint responsibility and complementary function between institutions of the Ecuadorian State, social organizations, actors in migratory matters, and coordination with fostering societies.

5. Relations with other States are built based on compliance with international legislation, under the principle of reciprocity.

Within this perspective, migration is thought from a multidimensional point of view (Ecuador constitutes an emitter, receptor, and transit country), in which the guiding principle of related public policies are based on Law subject matter.

In addition to the guiding ethical principles, the plan establishes the following objectives and their corresponding associated policies

Objective 1: Develop and drive in the world a migratory policy based on respect, and the exercise of human, economic, social, and cultural rights of all persons.

Policies associated with this objective:

  • Guarantee the right to migrate in a safe manner, to stay, and return.
  • Guarantee full validity of human rights, the protection, and the integration of migrant persons and their family members, regardless of their place of origin.
  • Prepare policies that insure the protection, integration, and cooperation with emigrants, immigrants, persons in transit, and in refugee status.
  • Strengthen relations with receptor, expulsion, and transit States with the purpose to coordinate joint actions for design and execution of plans, programs, and projects to benefit the social, economic, and political integration of migrant persons.

Objective 2: Generate and consolidate migrant persons’ bonds with their family members and countries.

Policies associated with this objective:

  • Promote family reunion both at origin and destination.
  • Support consolidation of transnational families.
  • Create and strengthen ties between Ecuadorian emigrants and their country, in political, social, economic, and cultural areas that make possible a dignified and sustainable voluntary return of emigrant persons.

Objective 3. Encourage permanency of Ecuadorians in their country, and build conditions that make possible a Dignified and Sustainable Voluntary Return of emigrant persons.

Policies associated with this objective:

  • Develop a dignified and sustainable voluntary return plan for emigrants and their reinsertion.
  • Correct geographic inequalities through improvement of living conditions, construction of infrastructure, and employment opportunities with the purpose to reduce propensity towards internal and international migration.
  • Support different state entities in the elimination of all those economic, social, and political causes that induce forced emigration.
  • Support the generation of work opportunities based on the establishment of a financial system that supports low income families with the purpose to invest and create resources within the country.
  • Encourage the valuation of being and feeling Ecuadorian.

Objective 4: Drive human development processes for migrant persons, their family members, and their environment.

Policies associated with this objective:

  • Work in coordination with pertinent State entities on the strengthening, formulation, and implementation of social, economic, political, and cultural inclusion policies.
  • Take advantage of the migratory fact potentials for a sustainable human development at local, national, and global levels.
  • Deal and comfort comprehensively the persons, families, and territories that live the negative effects of the migratory fact, at origin, transit, and destination.
  • Work in coordination with organized civil society sectors that take care of migratory matters.
  • Promote research of the migratory fact so as to formulate comprehensive and consistent proposals that would serve as the basis for generation of public policies.
  • Carry out necessary actions to prevent in national territory labor exploitation, trafficking in persons, trafficking of migrants, and related crimes.

Objective 5: Promote inter-culture and build up of universal citizenship processes.

Policies associated with this objective:

  • Promote coexistence based on inter-culture, guaranteeing a dynamic process founded on respect, and gender and generational equality.
  • Drive the development of the whole life of capabilities, potentials, and projects of individuals and groups through the respect for diversity, rights, individual and collective guaranties, towards the creation of a universal citizenship.
  • Encourage the buildup of universal citizenship in social, political, and integration processes, regardless of their origin.
  • Drive international dialogue from Ecuador to other States for the construction of migratory public policies as a path towards the exercise of a universal citizenship.
  • Fight racism, and stigmatization towards emigrants, immigrants, and peoples in refugee status.

d) Policy of Ecuador on Refuge Matters, 2008. This consists of an inter-ministry agreement prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Integration; Ministry of Coordination of Internal and External Security; Ministry of Defense; Ministry of Government; Ministry of Justice and Human Rights; and the Technical Secretariat of Plan Ecuador, jointly with the representation of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Ecuador’s Policy on matters of refuge has its direct precedent in the launch by the government in March 2007 of Plan Ecuador, which establishes the State policy for the northern border, addressing the issue of Colombian migrants as a result of the internal conflict. The refuge policy document establishes:

 “The EcuadorianState guarantees the recognition of refugee status of individuals and massive influx of foreign citizens, respects and guarantees the principles of no return and non-penal sanction for violation of migratory regulations in force when it regards asylum and refuge matters, and will carry out the actions needed for effective inclusion of those persons in Ecuadorian society”.

In that regard, between March 2009 and March 2010 was performed the first phase of the Broadened Registration (Registro Ampliado) project, a governmental initiative of humanitarian nature, that has the support of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Its objective is to regularize the status of Colombian citizens that moved to Ecuador’s northern border, because of the armed conflict seen in Colombia. Up to March 31, 2010, a total of 27,740 persons have been recognized as refugees through this initiative (UNHCR, 2010).

In matters of bilateral agreements and pacts, in the year 2001 Ecuador executed with Spain a labor and migration flow regulation agreement, under which it has given an opportunity to 5,368 Ecuadorian workers since its implementation until the end of the year 2008 (OAS, MINPET, 2010).

Addressing the large entry and establishment of Peruvian citizens in Ecuadorian territory, was executed the Agreement to Regularize Labor and Migratory Status of Peruvian and Ecuadorian nationals in the Broadened Border Region, that came in force in February 2007. This Agreement has allowed status regularization of 3,223 Peruvian citizens up to the end of the year 2010.  Subsequently, in the year 2008, was agreed the Ecuadorian-Peruvian Permanent Migratory Statute, that determines a period for regularization of migratory status, and offers certain protections to citizens of both countries. It came into force in October 2010, therefore, some time must elapse for its evaluation.

Regarding evolution of institutions, in the year 2000, under the guidelines of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is created the General Office of Support to Ecuadorians Abroad, and the Deputy Secretary Office of Migratory Affairs, whose objective is to offer basic services to Ecuadorian citizens abroad.

The creation by means of decree Nº 150 of March 1, 2007, of the National Secretariat of the Migrant (SENAMI) as an entity attached to the Presidency of the Republic, was a real milestone in matters of impulse and development of institutions involved with migratory issues. This is a guiding organization for the support and protection to the population in a situation of mobility, responsible for driving and consolidating human development programs for migrants, their families, and their environment, as well as to promote the permanency of Ecuadorians in the country, and build up conditions that make possible a dignified and sustainable voluntary return.

As the Guiding entity of Migratory Policy, the SENAMI works on the following strategic lines:

  • Progressive and growing inclusion of migrant persons within the ensemble of national public policies, promoting information, communication, cooperation for organizational strengthening, and inclusion of migratory matters in the whole of public action;
  • Mitigation of migration risks, and provision of a comprehensive attention to migrant persons and their families, for an effective resolution of their daily problems and needs;
  • Capitalization on the opportunities that migratory dynamics generate for persons and human being communities, taking into account their capabilities and potentials, and facilitating their channeling towards the needs and opportunities present and offered in the new Ecuador (SENAMI 2011).

Protection of rights and the stimulus of participation by Ecuadorian emigrants have been the two priorities of the new comprehensive migratory policy for Ecuador in the first three years of existence of the SENAMI (SENAMI 2011).

According to the guidelines of the New Migratory Policy for the Good Living, the SENAMI updated the Institutional Strategic Plan for the 2010-2013 period, being one of its main elements the institutional vision and mission detailed below:

  • SENAMI’s institutional vision indicates “contribute to the construction of origin and destination societies that guarantee the rights and freedoms for human mobility and permanency; that incorporate migrations’ potentials for human development and good living, as well as complete inter-culture, inclusion and coexistence. The SENAMI will be an active part of a world movement dedicated to promote universal citizenship, and will be recognized for the coherence of its public policy and action” (SENAMI, 2011).
  • The institutional mission indicates “foster total exercise of the rights of migrant persons, and boost their capabilities for good living; to that effect, it exercises guidance,  and plans and manages the Ecuadorian migratory policy; talks and coordinates with actors involved in migratory matters; and maintains coherence in its public immigration policy, that it requires for its citizens abroad” (SENAMI, 2011).

The program structure and objectives, as well as its contribution to the objectives of the Good Living National Plan (PNBV, for its initials in Spanish) are found in table 1.


Política Migratoria Integral “Todos somos Migrantes”

Position Ecuadorian State’s comprehensive migratory policy as a regional and global reference from a humanist and rights approach (objective 5 of PNBV).

Attention to the transnational family “Housing network”

Offer information, accompaniment, and comprehensive attention services to migrant persons and their families, with a housing network in the country and abroad that favors a close relationship with the State, its plans, and programs (objective 1 of PNBV).

Welcome Home Plan (Plan Bienvenid@s A Casa): Bonds

Consolidate and improve participation and communication venues and mechanisms of migrant persons with their families, communities, organizations, and the country; as well as their full identity, inter-culture, inclusion, and coexistence (objectives 7 and 8 of PNBV).

Welcome Home Plan (Plan Bienvenid@s a Casa): Incentives to social and economic investments 

Encourage and guide productive and social investment of migrant persons, their families, and groups, promoting recovery capabilities, and generation of quality employment  (objective 6 of PNBV).

Welcome Home Plan (Plan Bienvenid@s a Casa): Complementary to physical return “Return to home” (“Volver a casa”)

Facilitate the right to a dignified return of those migrant persons that have decided to return to Ecuador to continue their life projects, or those persons that have been forced to do so (objective 1 of PNBV).

Welcome Home Plan (Plan Bienvenid@s a Casa): Support and recovery of Ecuadorian talents 

Support and integrate the know-how, knowledge, abilities, and practices acquired by Ecuadorians abroad, to human development processes in the country (objectives 7 and 8 of PNBV).

Migrant Bank

Constitute and implement a financial institution for social and solidarity economy destined to provide financial and non-financial services oriented to cover personal, family, and business needs, linking them to development priorities of the country (objective 11 of PNBV).

The SENAMI, as the guiding entity of Ecuador’s Comprehensive Migratory Policy, has contributed important efforts in 2010 for the preparation of a bill, Migrations Organic Act (Ley Orgánica para las Migraciones), among which stand out:

  • Constitution of a steering team for the preparation process of the law under the coordination of the Deputy Secretary Office of Migratory Policy, and the Office of the Minister, addressing main aspects such as structure of content, principles, rights, and institutionalization, among others.
  • Carry out and participate in several dialogue, workshop, and forum venues with ministries, academia, civil society, and the media.
  • Monitoring of events and compilation of national and international documents related to migratory policy.
  • Presentation of contents and critical junctions to ministries, in coordination with the Ministry of Justice and SENPLADES.

The core of the proposal commits to an important regulatory and institutional reform that allows the State to have a powerful legal framework and institutions necessary for the government in migratory matters, in response to the new realities of the human mobility in a globalized world, and of Ecuador as a country of origin, transit, destination, and return of migrants.

The proposal repeals, updates, and fills voids of migratory laws in force, incorporating positive advances of some reforms and decrees, reconciling national legislation with international, regional, and bilateral treaties on human rights, especially with regional legislations in the South American area.

It also includes and develops rights and guaranties of the 2008 Constitution related to treatment of migrations, and policies of protection of rights and development of capabilities of migrants within and outside the country, adopting the perspective of human development, that manages migration to take advantage of their potentials, and minimize negative aspects, advocating social, economic, political, and inter-culture coexistence inclusion of migrants.

Finally, the main challenges of the SENAMI for the 2011-2013 period are stated in the Fiscal year 2010 Administration Report to the Council of Citizen Participation and Social Control, that highlights:

  • continue to broaden and deepen the coverage of public policies and services for migrant persons and their families, with special emphasis on those territories with greater migratory significance.
  • consolidate provision of public services from a de-concentrated, highly decentralized, and solidly inclusive process.
  • continue offering information for a safe emigration, and with rights, support, and facilities to achieve that the migration and return to Ecuador are real rights.
  • continue coordinating with ministries and institutions of the central government, with decentralized autonomous governments, with organized civil society, and with international cooperation to increase efficacy and efficiency of actions, supporting from migratory policy the efforts of the Good Living National Plan.
  • advance deeper into regional integration processes to make human mobility a true vector of development and understanding among peoples of South America.
  • contribute to guarantee in Ecuador inclusive, solidarity, and respectful policies  of the rights of migrant persons that want to contribute to the construction of this life in common project that is the new Ecuador.
  • consolidate the financial services of the bank of the migrant as a part of the economic and social inclusion policy of the migrant person and his/her family.
  • strengthen public policies for the prevention of risky migration, and the fight against migratory crimes.

In summary:

Ecuador has performed a great effort to redirect its migratory policy, from a focalized conception on security aspects to a comprehensive conception of migration focused on the protection of human rights.

Despite that this new conception has been stated in the new Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador approved in the year 2008, there is a lot to do to reconcile its legislation, and in addition create a consensus on national migratory policy with various actors of civil society, academia, and others, with a comprehensive approach that encompasses the various topics that entail the migratory phenomenon.

Ecuador’s migratory policy efforts have mainly concentrated on emigration, through various plans and programs of attention and protection of its citizens abroad, driven by SENAMI and actions by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Integration.

Regarding immigration, despite efforts carried out to guarantee the rights of immigrants –especially those coming from Peru and Colombia– it is necessary to have greater resources of actions that lead to improve guaranties of protection, access to health and education services, and labor regularization.

Finally, as pointed out in several reports and investigations[i], because of the need to improve statistical information to be able to have a status and monitoring condition of the diverse variables that make up the migratory phenomenon, was recently created an Inter-Institutional Commission of Migration Statistics under the chairmanship of the SENAMI, with the purpose to improve the production of migratory information.