As the US shuts Its doors to Haiti immigrants, Chile has open theirs to hundreds of thousands', but why?
Posted by Wall Street Journal on Monday, January 22, 2018 Under: Migration
Every night, a commercial airliner full of Haitians arrives in this city’s international airport carrying families who have bid adieu to their poor island nation for a new life here.
As the Trump administration aims to curb immigration, one of Latin America’s richest and safest countries has opened its doors to some of the region’s poorest migrants in record numbers. Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have fled their crime-ridden country in recent years for Chile, which has a history of receiving Bolivian, Peruvian and Colombian migrants.
But the most dramatic surge has come from Haiti. Last year, almost 105,000 Haitians entered Chile, compared with about 49,000 in 2016 and just a handful a decade ago, according to federal police that oversee border crossings.
“The explosion of this immigration is the most intense in the history of Chile,” said Rodrigo Sandoval, the former head of Chile’s immigration office. “There has never been a migration that has grown so much in such little time.”
It represents a new wave in what development economists say is an increasingly common type of immigration: from one developing country to another. The United Nations estimates 92 million people fall into this category, accounting for one-third of global migrants.
The atmosphere in Chile contrasts with the U.S., where President Donald Trump stoked controversy last week after reports that he used vulgar language to question the benefits of immigration from Haiti and Africa.
Chile responded to Mr. Trump’s comments by saying it would continue to receive Haitians with open arms. “The poor contribute to set out and improve their lives and that of the countries that receive them,” Foreign Relations Minister Heraldo Muñoz said. “The thousands of Haitians are an example in Chile.”
Jean Rony, a 37-year-old from Port-au-Prince, is one of those migrants. He arrived in Chile a year ago after being encouraged by a Haitian friend in Chile to make the journey. He quickly found a job in construction, and now hopes to bring his three children here once he receives permanent residency.
“So many Haitians are leaving the country seeking a better life because there aren’t resources there,” said Mr. Rony. “Thanks to God, I’ve been here a year and haven’t had a single problem with anyone."
While there has been a backlash against immigration in much of the developed world, Chilean politicians here have taken a more measured tone in a nation where hospitality is seen as a national virtue. Several Haitians here said they had experienced less racial discrimination in Chile than in the Dominican Republic, another popular destination.
A survey conducted in April and May showed that the percentage of people who think immigrants take away jobs from Chileans fell to 40% from 63% in 2003. Two-thirds of respondents agreed with the statement: “Immigrants are more willing to work than Chileans.”
The surge in newcomers isn’t without some controversy, however, and has stirred discussion about changing the country’s lax, decades-old immigration policy. Haitians and other migrants enter Chile on tourist visas. If they obtain job contracts before their visas expire, they can apply for work permits and, eventually, permanent residence.
Critics say it amounts to an open-door policy that increases competition in the job market for Chileans at a time of weak economic growth and puts pressure on health care and education services. Every day, lines stretching around the block form outside immigration offices in Santiago, illustrating authorities’ struggle to keep up with the influx.
Politicians are debating whether to try to stem the tide. Some legislators last year urged the government to require Haitians to obtain visas before traveling to Chile, a proposal the foreign ministry is studying. Conservative President-elect Sebastián Piñera suggested last year on the campaign trail that he would favor tighter controls.
“If immigration becomes excessive, any country in the world would apply regulations,” Mr. Piñera said last month during his campaign. “What we don’t want is for them to continue entering our country like their own house due to the lack of control.”
Gabriela Cabello, the current director of Chile’s immigration office, said the existing policy discourages illegal immigration while creating strong incentives for migrants to find jobs, pay taxes and keep their status regular. Clandestine border crossings by Haitians are almost nonexistent, while crime rates are “extremely low,” she said.
She and other supporters of the policy—including officials in outgoing President Michelle Bachelet’s government—say the migrants help shoulder the costs of an aging population that economists say will demand heavier spending on health care and pensions in coming decades. Due to a falling fertility rate and an 82-year life expectancy, the number of working-age Chileans for every retiree is on pace to fall from 7.6 in 2000 to 3.6 in 2030.
José Ramon Valente, an economist on Mr. Piñera’s transition team, agrees that importing labor could help the demographic challenge. “When figures start growing, you have to review and have a very good policy, but conceptually there’s a big consensus that we’re a country that’s happy to receive immigrants,” he said.
The Haitian influx to Chile comes as the migrants are turned back from other destinations. Brazil’s economic contraction has led to fewer jobs, sending many Haitians that initially moved there to Chile, said Cristián Doña-Reveco, a Chilean sociologist and immigration expert at the University of Nebraska.
U.S. policy has also been a factor, Chilean officials say.
The Obama administration stepped up deportations of Haitians in 2016 after initially granting them a special humanitarian status that allowed tens-of-thousands of Haitians to reside legally in the U.S. following a devastating 2010 earthquake. In November, the Department of Homeland Security said it would end that program, known as the temporary protected status.
“The U.S. has without a doubt had an influence because it inhibits certain nationalities from heading there, leading them to prefer destinations in the south,” said Ms. Cabello, the immigration official.
Haitian migration here can be traced to 2004, when ties between the countries were strengthened when Chile sent troops to the Caribbean nation to help lead a U.N. peacekeeping mission. At the time, Chile’s economy was booming. After Canada, it has the lowest homicide rate in the Western Hemisphere, the World Bank says.
Migration quickly increased after the 2010 earthquake and subsequent cholera epidemic, as those who arrived in Chile encouraged their friends and family back home to come.
The new French- and Creole-speaking arrivals face language and culture differences. Many Haitians are forced to live in overcrowded houses, and there are fewer job opportunities than in the past, forcing some to work informally, said Rodrigo Delgado, the mayor of Santiago’s Estacion Central district, which is popular hub for migrants. He said authorities have found up to 30 Haitian families crammed into one house.
“Five or six years ago, when Haitians arrived they’d get a job the next day,” he said. But it has become harder to find low-skilled work cleaning restaurants and gardening as more people arrive.
But the government has granted migrant children access to public schools and health services, regardless of their legal status in Chile. In addition, all migrants have a right to emergency medical treatment, and pregnant women are guaranteed pre- and postnatal care.
Sophia Dajoly, a 22-year-old Haitian who moved to Santiago six months ago after her mother died, said she had to postpone higher education because wages are too low to both study and work. Still, she earns enough at a company that provides immigration services to send $100 to $200 a month home to her nieces and nephews back home.
“I’m working so hard to help them,” said Ms. Dajoly. “If I had a job in my country, if I had everything that I needed, I would never go to another country.”
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