It is already known that the United States is one of the main destinations for Colombians who decide to emigrate from the country. According to the latest official statistics, corresponding to 2021, it is estimated that More than 855,000 compatriots live, without, however, counting all those who are irregularly.
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Above the US is only Venezuela, the country where the most Colombians reside. However, if you add the huge wave of migration to the north in the last year and a half (there are 260,000), the United States probably already tops that list.
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What profile do these Colombians have? When did they migrate? Where they live? What do you do? These are questions to which there were not always answers and that are now being resolved after the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a US-based institution dedicated to monitoring the global migratory flow, published one of the x-rays most complete studies made to date on the Colombian diaspora.
The MPI study was carried out by Diego Chaves-González (of Colombian origin) and Jeanne Batalova, who were based on a large number of official sources, including the US Census, UN and World Bank figures.
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According to the study, although the almost one million Colombians living in the US represent only 2 percent of the total number of migrants in the country (45.3 million), it is the largest group from South America.
in fact, almost one in four South American immigrants has a Colombian origin.
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In many respects, the Colombian-born population resembles the overall US immigrant population, with similar demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, including age distribution, percentages of individuals with a college degree, and employment in professional positions.
However, the report says, nationals are more likely to become naturalized citizens and/or obtain a green card through family reunification and other mechanisms when compared to other population groups.
If all people of Colombian origin are counted –that is, including those who were born in the United States–, the total number rises to 1.6 million, which places this diaspora as the 24th largest in the country: those of Germans, Mexicans, British, Irish and Italians are the top five on the list.
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What differentiates the Colombian is that the movement of its citizens towards the northern country is a relatively new phenomenon. In fact, the population has increased six-fold in the last 40 years. From some 144,000 documented in 1980, it went to more than 855,000 in 2021.
Between 2010 and 2021 alone, it grew almost three times faster than that of all immigrants in the country. In other words, while the Colombians expanded by 34 percent in that period, the average for the rest was 13 percent.
Although the study counted Colombians living in almost every state in the country, the vast majority (approximately 60 percent) currently reside in just three: Florida (35 percent), New York (13 percent), and New Jersey (11 percent).
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In terms of concentration, the areas where the most Colombians reside are the metropolitan areas of New York, Miami, Orlando, Houston, and Tampa, where 57 percent of all Colombians live.
Curiously, the report notes, the Colombian diaspora is one of the least familiar with English as a language. “Almost all Colombian immigrants speak a language other than English as their primary language. Only 8 percent of those aged 5 and older reported speaking exclusively English at home, compared to 17 percent of the total foreign-born population,” the report says.
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Another revelation points to the Colombian diaspora is older than the rest of migrants and the natives of the United States. While the average age of Colombians is 49, that of other migrants is 47 and that of Americans is 37.
Perhaps for this reason, more Colombians are of working age (between 16 and 65) than those born in the US: 77 percent versus 59 percent.
Mixed educational level
In educational terms, the results are rather mixed. 14 percent of Colombians residing in the US said they did not have a high school degree, compared to 7 percent of Americans and 26 percent of the rest of the migrants. But when the question was about a high school degree or more, 74 percent said they had it, a figure lower than the rest of the migrants (84 percent) or natives (93 percent).
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Despite this, the number who said they had at least a college degree was similar to the other two groups (34 percent versus 35 percent). That figure changes if you only look at those who arrived in the last five years, since 43 percent of them declared themselves university students. Which would mean that in this last migratory wave the educational level has been higher.
Where the figures are low is in the number of enrollments of Colombian students in higher education centers in the US. Of the 914,000 international students who entered these centers for the 2021-2022 period, only 8,000 were Colombian. But it is the second largest group in South America, surpassed only by Brazil.
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And the job?
In terms of jobs, the report places them in broad categories. Some 37 percent were in professions related to administration, business, science, and the arts, another 21 percent in services, 18 percent sales, 9 percent maintenance and construction, and 15 percent production and transportation.
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Regarding income and poverty, the average salary of a household headed by a Colombian immigrant was 66,000 dollars in 2021, lower than that of all immigrants and that of those born in the US (70,000 dollars for each of these). Additionally, 13 percent of Colombians lived in poverty, roughly similar to all immigrants (14 percent) and natives (13 percent).
increase in illegals
In the report, the MPI estimates that the population of undocumented Colombians counted until 2019 was about 170,000. But he clarifies that the number as of today is probably higher if the exodus that has been recorded since 2020, when the covid-19 pandemic broke out, is included.
To this is added that 63 percent of Colombian immigrants were naturalized US citizens in 2021, compared to 53 percent of all immigrants. Almost half of Colombian immigrants entered the northern country before 2000.
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Most of the 15,300 immigrants from Colombia who settled as Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs, also known as green card holders) in fiscal year 2021 did so through family reunification channels (89%).
About 8 percent obtained a green card through job sponsorship, and 3 percent did so after being resettled as a refugee or granted asylum.
Since March 31, 2023, Approximately 3,500 immigrants from Colombia participated in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, representing a small part of the total of 578,700 current beneficiaries.
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Most are newborns in Colombia
The Colombian diaspora is composed of approximately 1.6 million residents of the United States who were born in Colombia or declared that origin, based on MPI tabulation of 2021 American Community Survey (ACS) data from the US Census Bureau.
On the other hand, people born in the United States, but who report Colombian ancestry, represented 758,000 (47 percent) of the diaspora of compatriots currently residing in the United States.
SERGIO GOMEZ MASERI
EL TIEMPO correspondent
On twitter @sergm68