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Challenges and Outlook | 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

Challenges and Outlook

Thomas Maier

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Argentina is a country with a long-standing history of immigration. The Constitution of 1854 already emphasized the importance of immigration for the country's development. Especially European migrants were regarded as drivers of social modernization and were actively recruited. It was only under the rule of military juntas at different periods of time during the 20th century when immigration policy became more restrictive. Reforms since the beginning of the 21st century have strengthened immigrants' rights and have once again led to a more open approach towards immigration.

March 2013: Girl from low-income migrant families living in tents on the streets of Buenos Aires. (© picture alliance / Demotix)

The migration law of 2004 was a turning point in recent history, revoking legislation that had not been fundamentally altered since the last dictatorship. It highlights the transition from a restrictive policy towards a realistic, open concept of immigration, which in its implementation still faces considerable opposition from parts of the state bureaucracy and segments of society. The law explicitly recognizes the contributions of migration to the country, and articulates the need for public policies to realize the aim of full integration. In this way, the new Argentine legislation positions the country firmly within a rights-based regime of migration. A similar outlook applies to the country’s commitment concerning refugees, as Argentina welcomed 300 Syrian families in 2012 and 2013.

In the light of restrictive migration policies in the United States and Europe, in combination with a permissive legislation, it is very likely that immigration will continue to shape Argentina in the coming years, particularly from neighboring countries. Especially those communities already established are projected to grow further. But also the continuing inflow of returnees from Southern Europe is very likely, as the main destination countries for Argentine émigrés since 2001 continue to suffer under harsh fiscal, economic and social pressure.

Argentina’s response to future immigration rests on two fundamental developments. Firstly regarding changes in the political situation, as the Kirchner administration has had more than ten years to implement its rights-based approach in national politics in coordination with a regional project of integration. The country is sharing similar political projects with major neighboring countries, especially Brazil and Bolivia, which facilitated the coordination of regional migration and the regularization of the status of migrants. Future Argentine governments may very well embark on a more restrictive path in issues of immigration and regularization in order to appease a more conservative and right-wing constituency. Secondly, the high growth figures since 2003 made Argentina once again an attractive destination for migrants. Since 2012, the post-2001-crisis, post-neoliberal economic model, based on a strong state, dominant export sectors and relative independence from international credit markets, is, however, experiencing serious difficulties. This applies not only to Argentina, but to the region as a whole. If this trend continues, it is possible that internal pressure to limit the inflow of people will alter the permissive framework which was successfully applied over the last ten years.

An optimistic résumé of these last ten years allows for the view that a new paradigm in Argentina’s conceptualization of nationality is starting to take shape: from the principle of national sovereignty and self-determination towards one that defines the state’s responsibility towards its residents under the status of human rights, and international and regional conventions, expanding the notions of citizenship and moving away from assimilationist discourses (see Box 4) and towards cultural pluralism in the creation of public policies. Nonetheless, it is still too early to assess whether this change is also impacting the culture of xenophobia and sensibilities of superiority towards Latin American immigration shared by so many Argentines in their self-affirmation as a "white society". This might prove even more difficult in the light of severe economic and social problems that the country is currently facing, which are putting the national project of the Kirchner government under huge pressure.

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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: