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Argentinean Immigration Policy Resolutely Geared to Human Rights

Victor Piché, Buenos Aires
10 February, 2010

We will publish a series of three editorials presenting different aspects of the Argentinean immigration policy. Here is the first [1].

Argentina is a country of immigration: in 2005, the foreign-born population represented 4,2% of the total population and 5,1% of the labor force. In the past, the country, like other American countries, has received mass migration from Europe (mostly from Italy and Spain) [2]. Today, Argentina constitutes an important regional pole for migrants coming from neighboring countries. According to the 2001 census, Italy and Spain represented only 22,9% of the countries of origin, the rest coming from neighboring countries such as Paraguay (21,2%), Bolivia (15,2%) and Chile (13,9%). Argentina is also a sending country: in 2005, it was estimated that more than 800,000 Argentineans (2,1% of the total population) were living abroad [3].

It must be emphasized at the outset that Argentina is the first important country of immigration to have signed (August 2004) and ratified (February 2007) the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Up to now, only sending countries had been part of the Convention. It must be reminded that no country of the Global North, including Canada, has signed the Convention yet [4].

The ratification of the Migrant Workers Convention is the consequence of an important shift in Argentina’s immigration policy towards the protection of migrants’ rights as spelled out in the new 2003 legislation. This law states clearly the will to respect international treaties on migrants’ rights as well as bilateral and regional accords. In particular, it stresses the importance of facilitating residence rights for nationals from countries part of MERCOSUR (South Common Market) and associated countries. Among other things, the law guarantees the right to family reunification and – this is a central aspect of the UN Convention – guarantees that all persons living on Argentinean territory, whether permanently or temporarily, will be treated without discrimination and will exercise the same rights as the national population.

The recent immigration law also adheres to the new international philosophy which considers international migration as an asset for countries of origin, destination and transit, and in particular with respect to transforming the brain drain into brain gain, mobilizing diasporas for developmental objectives and facilitating the return of migrants to their country of origin [5]. This aspect of the immigration policy is particularly innovative and Argentina has put forward many programs in order to attract Argentinean scientists abroad through networking activities and measures encouraging integration in the labor force, including for retired scientists.

Another important aspect of the recent law is the way it deals with the issue of irregular migration, one of the main obstacles to the ratification of the Migrant Workers Convention. Like many other countries in the world, Argentina has a certain number of undocumented migrants. It is always difficult to estimate the extent of this type of migration, but according to the Regularization Program, more than 775,000 persons without papers have, over the period 2003-2007, regularized their status; 85% of these came from MERCOSUR countries. At the core of the law is the necessity for the state to devise instruments that guarantee the integration of immigrants in the Argentinean society, specifically by adopting measures facilitating the regularization process.

With respect to refugees and asylum seekers (of whom there are few), Argentina, over and above the protection provided by the 2003 immigration law, has adopted in 2006 a specific act on the recognition and protection of refugees, which is based on the respect of basic human rights.

Finally, Argentina has adopted in 2008 an act on trafficking of persons and assistance to its victims. In accordance with international policies on human trafficking, this act has adopted the three P’s approach: Prevention (through information), Protection (of victims), and Prosecution (of criminals involved). There also exists a specific national program aiming at preventing and eliminating human trafficking and also at providing assistance to victims of trafficking. We shall come back on this issue in another editorial.

In brief, the whole legislative apparatus adopted by the Argentinean government with respect to migrants’ human rights constitutes an important progress, which could inspire many countries, including Canada, in adopting migration policies more in line with international human rights instruments.

Obviously, these are very recent laws and we need to document to what extent concrete mechanisms have been devised so as to make them operational. This will be the subject of the next editorial.

[1] The author would like thank Jorge Gurrieri of the IOM in Buenos Aires for his valuable insights on migration policies in Argentina.

[2] Devoto, F., 2004, Historia de la Inmigracion en la Argentina, Buenos Aires, Editorial Sudamericana.

[3] All the statistics presented here are taken from Texido, Ezequiel, 2008, Perfil Migratorio de Argentina, Organizacion International para las Migraciones, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

[4] See Piché, V., Pelletier, E. & EPALE, E., 2009, “Obstacles to ratification of the ICRMW in Canada”, in Ryszard, Richard, De Guchteneire, Paul, Pecoud, Anbtoine, (eds). Migration and Human Rights: The United Convention on Migrant Workers’ Rights, Cambridge University Press, Chapter 8.

[5] See United Nations, 2005, Human Rights of Migrants, Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights, Sixty-first session (E/CN.4/2005/L.63).

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