Posted on October 31, 2023

Chile’s U-Turn on Immigration Expansion

Elliot Davis Jr., U.S. News, October 24, 2023

Recent studies and reports suggest that countries around the world – from Denmark to Sweden to the United States – are cooling on support for immigration amid a global migration crisis.

But even as sentiments in Europe and the U.S. typically garner much of the attention surrounding such dilemmas, the nation that’s taken the sharpest negative turn in opinion on openness to additional immigration sits on the western side of South America, one survey shows, and has been grappling with an influx of people from another country on the continent.

In Chile, only about 42.5% of respondents to the recently released Best Countries survey agreed with the statement, “My country should be more open to immigration.” That is a 15-point drop from 2022, when 57.5% agreed, and marks the largest decline among the 36 countries surveyed in U.S. News’ annual analysis of global perceptions. Just five years ago, Chileans’ share of support for more immigration was around 70%.

Experts say the attitudinal shift suggested in the data reflects the reality on the ground, where the growing number of immigrants in Chile has been met with more restrictive policies. Similar to what’s happening in Europe, analysts say conservative political parties and some citizens are blaming immigrants for rising crime and other problems.


The spike is evident in the data: A recent analysis by the Migration Policy Institute found that Chile’s share of immigrants in the population rose from 1% in 1992 to about 9% by 2020, accounting for 1.46 million immigrants. That number inched closer to 1.5 million in 2021, according to the most recent data available directly from the country’s National Institute of Statistics. The country’s foreign population approximately doubled from 2017 to 2021.

Another survey indicates that Chileans are indeed not happy about the spike. Recent data from Vanderbilt University’s AmericasBarometer survey – which was shared with U.S. News and is not yet published – shows that 56% of Chileans agreed in 2023 that the government should offer social services to immigrants. While still a majority, the percentage fell 15 points from where it stood in 2018 and 2019 – a sizable shift compared with data from several other Latin American countries that were surveyed.

Chilean support has dropped even more for migrants from Venezuela specifically, according to Vanderbilt’s data. When the question was geared toward whether respondents supported providing social services to Venezuelan immigrants, the percentage of agreement in Chile decreased from 66% to 44% over the same time span.


One such attempt came in 2021, when Chile passed a law reforming its immigration system for the first time in almost 50 years. The law changed visa requirements and established a process for deporting migrants who have attempted to enter the country illegally, according to legal analysis from the International Bar Association. Chilean authorities earlier this year sent armed forces to the country’s northern border to control migration flows, a move that human rights group Amnesty International described as a “militarization” of Chile’s borders.