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A Brief History of Remittances and Immigration in Colombia

Colombia, the land of magic realism and the second most populated country in South America, has always had a close relationship with its neighbors.

Since the era of the Gran Colombia, the brainchild of political leader Simón Bolívar, the borders of what is today the republic of Colombia have witnessed the comings and goings of many migrants.

Let’s take a closer look.

Colombian migration

The Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs distinguishes three migration waves in Colombian history, the first taking place in the 1960s with the United States as primary destination, the second in the 1980s to Venezuela and the third in the 1990s to Spain.

The United States wave was led by middle- and upper-class migrants with a good command of the English language who were looking for job opportunities or escaping political unrest. Today, around a million Colombians reside in the States.

Given that Colombia is the fourth largest coal producer, third largest coffee exporter and second largest cut flowers exporter in the world, as well as the fourth largest oil producer in Latin America, its industry drives immigration from neighboring countries, China and Japan.

Although more than 721,000 Colombians had moved to Venezuela by 2011, the current socioeconomic crisis has led many to return, bringing with them a wave of one million Venezuelans looking for a fresh start. The Colombian foreign minister stated that this number could reach four million by 2021.

On the other hand, migration to Spain was led by middle- and working-class women migrants from the Eje Cafetero, a diaspora which peaked in 1998. Currently, over 200,000 Colombians are living in Spain, making it the fourth largest foreign population in the Iberian country. However, many nationalized and native Spaniards have moved to Colombia since the 2008 crisis, totaling 36,281 according to INE (Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas, National Statistics Institute).

The impact of remittances in Colombia

Last year, Colombia received over US$6.4 billion in remittances with the United States (US$1.767 billion), Venezuela (US$1.697 billion) and Spain (US$841 million) as its top senders.

Despite the fact that this sum represented less than 2% of the country’s GDP, Colombia is the fourth highest recipient of remittances in Latin America, according to World Bank data.

At the same time, migrant workers in Colombia sent US$55 million to Spain, US$38 million to the US, US$29 million to Ecuador and US$18 million to Venezuela last year.

Colombia is both an important sending and receiving country, an ecosystem in which funds reach those who need it most at home or abroad.

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