Argentina – Historical Synthesis of International Migration

After gaining its independence from Spain in the early 19th century, Argentina adopted an open immigration policy and encouraged immigrants to adopt the country as their own. For a brief period in the late 1880s, the government also subsidized boat passages for immigrants. It is estimated that between 1870 and 1930 the country received more than seven million foreigners, mainly from Spain and Italy (Jachimowicz, 2006). The reasons for this mass exodus from Europe are numerous and include both: demographic expansion, liberalism, the commercialization of agriculture, industrialization, and advances in transportation as well as armed and religious conflicts and economic crises. in some countries of the old continent (Moya, 1998). For example,

The massive immigration from Europe responded in part to the offer of better salaries in Argentina. On average, an agricultural worker earned in four or five harvest months, between five and ten times what he earned in his country of origin (Veganzones, 1997). Another point of attraction was government programs. In 1862, the Argentine Congress authorized the hiring of immigrants to colonize the national territories, specifically the regions outside the constituted provinces, which were governed from Buenos Aires. The Migration Directorate, at that time called the “Central Immigration Commission”, established in 1869, appointed agents in Europe to recruit settlers.

In 1854, Buenos Aires had a population of 90,000 inhabitants, and in 1895 the population increased to
670,000. Newcomers received free lodging, exemption from taxes on their belongings, and also, eventually, free rail transportation. Many of the early immigrants achieved rapid social mobility but few managed to acquire land (Rock, 2003).

Foreign immigration was essential to populate the country, adding approximately 4.2 million individuals to the general population between 1881 and 1914 alone. The largest flow of immigration occurred before the First World War. In 1914, the immigrant population represented 30% of the total population, and in Buenos Aires this was even higher, ranging between 60% and 80% of the total population (Devoto, 2002).

The Italian and Spanish communities continued to dominate until the 1940s, with 42% and 38% of the total, respectively. Also notable during this period is the presence of Russian immigrants (93,000) and immigrants from the former Ottoman Empire (65,000) (Devoto, 2002).

However, in the 1920s, migration to Argentina decreased due to a change in immigration policy that made it difficult for foreigners to enter the country. This shift in policy from more open to more closed is due in part to the ruling classes’ fear of an immigrant revolt. Increased security at landing ports (Devoto, 2002). Meanwhile in Europe, productivity and wages increased, which reduced the incentive to emigrate. The 1929 crisis in Argentina put an end to the mass immigration from Europe that was prevalent at the beginning of the century. The economic recession hit Argentina hard and their salaries were no longer competitive with European ones (Veganzones, 1997). With the exception of a brief period after the Second World War, European immigration continued to decline, especially concentrated between the years 1947 and 1951 and was more varied than in previous years. These smaller immigrant flows included Germans, Russians, Yugoslavs, Armenians, Ukrainians, and other European ethnic groups in addition to the usual Spanish and Italians.

Throughout the 20th century, immigration to Argentina decreased and lost its relative weight, as can be seen in the 1947 national census. Not only did the international migratory volume decrease, but there were also changes in its composition. European migration was replaced by immigration from neighboring countries which, although it was always present, took on visibility due to the decrease in European immigration. Wages in Argentina were for a time the highest in the region. Between 1950 and 1980, Paraguayan immigration represented between 40% and 65% of the migratory flows from neighboring countries (Veganzones, 1997). Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Peru and Uruguay also contributed migrants in the 1980s.

Political and economic instability in neighboring countries (especially Paraguay and Chile) were the determining factors that prompted this migration, as well as Argentina’s high standard of human and economic development in relation to the migrants’ countries of origin. Labor migrations from neighboring countries were mainly concentrated in seasonal activities, domestic service, construction and commerce.

During the 1960s and 1970s, as well as in the early 1980s, there was a considerable outflow of Argentine emigrants to other Latin American countries (for example, Venezuela and Mexico) and also to the United States, Canada, and Europe. The emigration process included professionals, technicians and scientists. The main reasons for the emigration of these highly qualified individuals was Argentina’s economic decline as well as a series of military dictatorships and the open hostility of the military regime against the universities.

In recent years, a large number of Argentines have migrated to Spain and the United States, among other destinations. This migration has been associated with the decline of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) during the 1990s, a high unemployment rate, and the financial crisis (Solimano, 2003). In Spain, strong foreign labor demand and favorable policies for naturalization (applicable to Argentines of Spanish descent) partly explain the increase in flows to that country. Since 2003, as economic and political conditions have stabilized, the tendency of Argentine nationals to leave the country has decreased (Jachimowicz, 2006), and at present there seems to be a reversal of flows with the return of Argentines in particular. – mind affected by the European crisis that deeply disturbs Spain.

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