Uruguay's migrant population grows for first time in a century, driven by Venezuelans, Cubans
Uruguay's migrant population grows for first time in a century, driven by Venezuelans, Cubans
Uruguay's migrant population grows for first time in a century, driven by Venezuelans, Cubans
by DZRH News22 December 2023
Venezuelan immigrants gather at a Venezuelan community Christmas party, in Montevideo, Uruguay, December 16, 2023. REUTERS/Lucinda Elliott

By Lucinda Elliott

MONTEVIDEO (Reuters) - For the first time since mass European migration to the Americas at the turn of the 20th century, the number of foreigners living in Uruguay is on the rise, this time driven by a wave of arrivals from Venezuela and Cuba.

Foreign-born residents represented 3% of the 3.4 million Uruguayan population in 2023, up from 2% a decade ago, the country's latest census data show. It is the first increase since 1908.

Political and economic turmoil in Venezuela and Cuba over the last decade has driven an exodus to South America and north towards the United States.


Uruguay's relative economic stability, higher wages and job security, and vaunted public education system make it an attractive destination, migrants say, although the cost of living is high.

In capital Montevideo this month, volunteers at the annual Venezuelan community Christmas party were busy wrapping a record number of small gifts from "Papa Noel" to distribute to children.

"When it started six years ago we were only a few families that came together to arrange presents," said Vanessa Sarmiento, who helps organize the festive event. This year 4,000 people filled Montevideo's Migration Museum to enjoy live bands, bouncy castles and stalls selling traditional dishes. "There are few signs of the numbers falling," she said.

Sarmiento co-founded Manos Veneguayas in 2017, a non-profit that helps Venezuelan migrants settle in Uruguay, where the government has looked to welcome foreign workers to bolster its dwindling population.


The Venezuelan community alone has grown three-fold to 33,000 in five years. Nearly 30,000 Cubans have arrived over the same period, but they often move elsewhere quickly, using Uruguay as a springboard to reach the U.S. and Europe.

Demographic specialist Martin Koolhaas said that unlike other countries on the continent where rising migrant populations are increasingly perceived as a strain on public services, the trend is a "huge positive" for Uruguay because it helps counter a longstanding issue of having the lowest birth rate in South America.

Part of Uruguay's appeal is an "exemplary" immigration system, according to Sarmiento.

"It took me three months to get all my documents and find work," said 55-year-old Luiz Paz from Maracaibo in Venezuela, who followed his eldest daughter to Montevideo this time last year. "I feel settled. We're granted the same rights as Uruguayans and are here to stay."


(Reporting by Lucinda Elliott, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)

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