A Brief History of Remittances and Immigration in Colombia

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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, with significant amounts of remittances sent to and from Colombia.

Let’s take a closer look.

A (Very) Brief History of Colombia

According to archeological research, the territory of present day Colombia has been occupied since at least 12,000 BCE by Indigenous civilizations. Throughout the years, these early settlements established themselves into structured societies that cultivated lands and developed their own political systems. Among these nations were the Quimbaya, the Zenú, and the Muisca, to name a few of these pre-Columbian societies and cultures. It is also known that, before the arrival of the Europeans, the Muisca formed a Confederation of rulers among themselves, which demonstrates how complex the organization of the original inhabitants of Colombia was.

After the arrival of the Spanish, the New Kingdom of Granada was founded, and thus began the establishment of different land properties such as the encomiendas. Later, in the 18th century, this political entity and its provinces were reorganized into a Viceroyalty of New Granada with more territories, and Bogotá, its capital, became an important administrative center of the Spanish crown. In 1810, the Viceroyalty became independent from the Spanish empire, developing into the country known as the United Provinces of New Granada. From there, further political developments brought the country under a short-lived Granadine Confederation, the United States of Colombia, and finally the Republic of Colombia, founded in 1886.

Since then, going through complex changes in its politics, economy and society, Colombia – a country with unique landscapes, going from islands to parts of the Amazon rainforest – has turned into one of Latin America’s greatest economies, with the Colombian peso as its currency. It is also one of the most important leaders of the region, being part of significant worldly institutions such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), to name a few.

Colombian Immigration

The economy of Colombia is diversified, has a strong internal demand, and has been growing at a reasonably stable rate in recent times. Even so, the country has been subject to migration waves, with many Colombians choosing to live abroad. 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 United 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 recent socio-economic 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 Colombian remittances

In 2020, more than US$ 6.9 billion were sent in remittances to Colombia. Despite the fact that this number represents approximately 2.5% 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$ 259 million abroad.

Colombia is both an important sender and receiver of remittances, an ecosystem in which funds reach those who need it most at home or abroad.

This is an installment of our “Brief Histories” Series. Continue discovering: Poland, Senegal, Malaysia, Philippines, Canada, Italy, Georgia, Dominican Republic, Morocco and Ukraine.

To expand and download the infographic, click here.

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