Uruguay welcomes wave of migrants from Venezuela and Cuba

Since the wave of European migration into the Americas in the early 1900s, it is remarkable that Uruguay has only recently begun to see increases in its foreign population due to immigration from Venezuela and Cuba.

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Venezuelan immigrants gather at a Venezuelan community Christmas party, in Montevideo, Uruguay, December 16, 2023. REUTERS/Lucinda Elliott

According to the recent census data, foreign-born individuals now make up 3% of Uruguay’s 3.4 million population in 2023, a significant increase from 2% a decade ago, marking the first upturn since 1908.

Political and economic instability in Venezuela and Cuba has given rise to migration toward North American countries or Latin American countries that provide opportunity and safety.

Food is relatively expensive but migrants are attracted by Uruguay’s more stable economy, rising salaries and job security as well as the public education system in which students enjoy special privileges.

At the annual Christmas party sponsored by the Venezuelan community in Montevideo, the number of volunteers rose to record levels and even more kids than usual received presents from ‘Papa Noel’.

Vanessa Sarmiento, a collaborator in the non-profit organisation Manos Veneguayas that helps migrants from Venezuela settle into Uruguay, states that during those five years they have gradually increased to 33,000 people. There is also the Cuban community, now numbering nearly 30,000 arrivals over that period.

But although most Cubans just make it a stopover on the way to America and Europe, Uruguay’s government is very willing to attract foreign workers since its population continues falling.

Martin Koolhaas, a demographic specialist, sees this as an enormous boost for Uruguay that will help replace the longstanding problem of its having South America’s lowest birth rate. Uruguay is generally admired by migrants as having an exemplary immigration system.

Luiz Paz, a 55-year-old migrant from Maracaibo in Venezuela has pointed out that immigration is an effective policy. “It took me three months to get all my documents and find work,” he said.

Proudly stating his long stay in Uruguay, “I feel settled. We’re granted the same rights as Uruguayans and are here to stay,” he expressed.

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