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Argentines Abroad | Argentina |

Argentina Introduction Historical Developments Recent Developments The Immigrant Population Argentines Abroad Legal Frameworks of Immigration Citizenship Refuge and Asylum Challenges and Outlook References and Further Reading

Argentines Abroad

Thomas Maier

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Argentina has a long history of immigration. The country does, however, also witness emigration flows. Many Argentines left the country during the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2001, seeking better prospects for their future abroad, especially in Spain and the USA. With the worsening economic outlook in light of the financial crisis in Southern Europe, many of them have, however, decided to return to Argentina.

Argentinians queue at the Consulate of Spain in Buenos Aires to apply for citizenship on 27 December 2011, during the last day for submission of documents under the Law of Historical Memory, enacted in Spain in 2007. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

The Crisis of 2001 and Its Consequences - Argentina as a Country of Emigration

Figure 5: Argentine immigration to OECD countries, 2001-2010 (total numbers) Source: OAS (2012), Migración internacional en las Américas: Segundo informe del Sistema Continuo de Reportes sobre Migración Internacional en las Américas (SICREMI), Organización de los Estados Americanos. (© bpb)

In 2001, Argentina was faced with a financial crisis that, in the following year, resulted in a 300 percent devaluation of the national currency and a collapse of the banking system within weeks, with devastating social consequences. Unemployment rose to 20 percent, under-employment topped at 17 percent. 42 percent of the population was living below the poverty line and those in extreme poverty reached 27 percent.

The economic, political, and social crisis resulted in a dramatic change in migration patterns. The decade saw the first truly, prolonged wave of emigration, mostly by young and skilled Argentines, seeking a better future abroad (see Figure 5). It is estimated that in 2010, around one million Argentines were living outside the country’s borders, with Spain (30 percent), and the US (23 percent) hosting the lion share (see Figure 6).

Figure 5: Argentine immigration to OECD countries, 2001-2010 (total numbers) Source: OAS (2012), Migración internacional en las Américas: Segundo informe del Sistema Continuo de Reportes sobre Migración Internacional en las Américas (SICREMI), Organización de los Estados Americanos. (© bpb)

Until very recently, the biggest community of Argentines outside the national territory resided in the US. The number of incoming migrants from Argentina into the US peaked in 2002 with 35,210 individuals, from only 6,670 in 2000. But in the aftermath of the crisis of 2001, Spain became the main destination for Argentines (see Figure 6).

Spain started attracting Argentines in the middle of the 20th century, given the cultural and linguistic affinities, but the process accelerated after the remarkable improvement in the macro-economic indicators that this country experienced after joining the European Union in 1986. Another crucial factor for the presence of a large Argentine community before 2001 was the forced emigration of thousands of Argentines under the military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983. Many refugees chose Spain (together with Mexico and the US) as their main destination, making the Argentine community the largest within the group of Latin Americans until the 1990s. Importantly, this cohort consisted significantly of highly educated and technically skilled individuals.

Figure 6: Argentines in the world, 2010 Source: Organización Internacional para las Migraciones (OIM) (2012), Perfil Migratorio de Argentina 2012, OIM. (© bpb)

After the crisis of 2001, the numbers of Argentines living in Spain rose significantly, from 119,000 in 2001 to a peak of 291,700 individuals in 2009 with 35,405 Argentines coming to Spain in 2002 alone. Since then numbers have been falling slowly but steadily, with many Argentines leaving Spain, due to the recession in Southern Europe and the booming economic situation in Latin America. Still, in 2011, Argentine-born people represented the 6th biggest community of foreign-born residents in the country (279,300 individuals), after Romanians, Moroccans, Ecuadoreans, British , and Colombians.

Another focus of emigration became Israel. Estimates suggest that between 2000 and 2006, some 11,200 Argentines relocated to that country, with a return rate of about 15-20 percent. In 2002 alone, shortly after the outbreak of the crisis, roughly 5,900 Argentines left for Israel, a number only topped in that year by the inflow of migrants from the former USSR. Although the inflow of Argentine citizens into Israel slowed down significantly in recent years, Argentina is still among the top sending countries (6th place in 2012). As a consequence, the Jewish community in Argentina is continuously shrinking. The number of Argentine Jews peaked in the early 1960s with over 300,000 individuals; it has dropped below 200,000 in recent years. The difficult economic situation in Argentina as well as Israel's active immigration policy targeting Argentine Jews (transmitted through Jewish cultural organizations in Argentina) contributed to their emigration motivations.

In many cases, especially for the large community of Argentines with Spanish and Italian roots, the specific naturalization laws of these countries, based on varieties of the paternal ius sanguinis, provided easy access to European citizenship, which then allowed a theoretically free movement within the European Union (see Box 5).

Becoming European

A quick glance at the acquisition of the Italian nationality by Argentine citizens shows a dramatic increase in the years after 2001: whereas 316 people became Italian nationals in 2001, the number rocketed to 2,569 in 2006. The Spanish case is even more impressive: the number went up from 791 in 2001 to a peak of 6,395 in 2010.

For many, especially young Argentines, the acquisition of a European passport became an important exit strategy, often executed without leaving the country by using the consulates on Argentine territory. The reform of citizenship legislation in Spain in 2007, giving the descendants of refugees from the Spanish Civil war easier access to Spanish citizenship, called Ley de nietos (Grandchildren's Law), benefited many Argentines with Spanish roots as well. In 2009, of the 291,700 Argentine-born residents in Spain, only 45 percent did not have the Spanish citizenship (132,000 individuals).

Return Migration

A strong economic recovery after 2003, and, more importantly, the devastating effect of the recession in Europe’s South after 2007 initiated a new phase of migration. Many Argentines who had left the country in the decades before decided to return. In some cases, return migration was supported by pay-to-go return migration programs in the country of residence, notably in Spain. The number of Argentine nationals without Spanish citizenship living in Spain diminished from 95,415 in 2013 to 80,910 in 2014. At the same time emigration from Spain to Argentina is continuously growing, from 2,182 in 2012 to 2,682 in 2013. Argentina signed various treaties with numerous Latin American countries and Spain to make a transition and transfer of accrued social security entitlements possible without substantial losses for migrant workers.

This text is part of the Interner Link: country profile Argentina.



  1. Organización Internacional para las Migraciones (OIM) (2012).

  2. OECD (2009).

  3. Ginieniewicz (2012); Esteban/Actis (2012).

  4. Hierro (2013).

  5. OECD (2013).

  6. Brodsky/Rein (2013).

  7. Martín-Pérez (2012).

  8. OECD (2013).

  9. Instituto Nacional de Estadística (Spain) (2014).


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Thomas Maier is currently researching his PhD at the Institute of the Americas, University College London. His main focus of research is the history of labor and the welfare state in the Americas, particularly Argentina and the Southern Cone. Email: E-Mail Link: