Chile eyes new migration law after report predicts it will rise once pandemic eases

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chilean senators on Tuesday reopened a debate over a bill to tighten migration at the behest of the government after a report last week suggested Chile could again become a migration hotspot after the coronavirus pandemic subsides.

FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan children hold toys next to the Chile Consulate where their parents wait for migration documents in La Paz, Bolivia, July 1, 2019. REUTERS/David Mercado/File Photo

The bill seeks to tighten rules on how prospective immigrants can enter Chile, how they are taxed, the recognition of their qualifications, and how they can be deported if they do not meet the requirements.

More than one million people have migrated to Chile since 2014, bringing the foreign-born population to a total of 1.5 million, according to government figures.

The comparatively wealthy Latin American nation is a popular destination for migrants from poorer regional countries such as Haiti and Venezuela.

Migration levels fell in mid-2019 after the center-right government of President Sebastian Pinera announced a campaign to register undocumented migrants and said migrants would have to obtain visas in their home countries before entering Chile.

The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown have left thousands of Venezuelans, Bolivians and Peruvians who were already in Chile without work, and many have chosen to return home.

But a report by Chile’s Department of Migration predicted that, without the new law, migrant numbers could reach up to 250,000 people a year once the crisis is over, pointing to an International Monetary Fund report that suggested Chile’s economy would rebound quicker than most.

“The migration pressure on the country will pick up once the pandemic ends, especially in 2021,” it said.

Juan Francisco Galli, the Interior Ministry undersecretary, told local El Mercurio newspaper he hoped the legislation would be passed by the end of the year.

Legislating in the current context was “idiocy,” Hector Pujols, who heads an immigration advocacy group, said in an interview.

“They don’t have any proof (of a likely increase) and even if they did, you can’t formulate laws based on what is happening now. This requires long-term thinking,” he said.

Reporting by Aislinn Laing, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien