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Immigration to Colombia has been historically low when compared to similar countries such as Venezuela, due to economic, social, and security issues linked mainly to the Colombian armed conflict. Colombia inherited from the Spanish Empire harsh rules against immigration, first in the Viceroyalty of New Granada and later in the Colombian Republic. The Constituent Assembly of Colombia and the subsequent reforms to the national constitution were much more open to the immigrants and the economic aperture. However naturalization of foreigners, with the exception of those children of Colombians born abroad, is still very difficult to acquire due to paperwork and bureaucracy. Immigration in Colombia is managed by the "Migración Colombia" agency.
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The origin of European immigration in Colombia began in 1510 with the colonization of San Sebastián de Urabá. In 1526, settlers founded Santa Marta, the oldest Spanish city still in existence in Colombia. Many Spaniards began their explorations searching for gold, while others Spaniards established themselves as leaders of the native social organizations teaching natives the Christian faith and the ways of their civilization. Catholic priest would provide education for Native Americans that otherwise was unavailable. Within 100 years after the first Spanish settlement, nearly 95 percent of all Native Americans in Colombia had died. The majority of the deaths of Native Americans were the cause of diseases such as measles and smallpox, which were spread by European settlers. Many Native Americans were also killed by armed conflicts with European settlers.
White European (Spanish colonist) settlement focused mainly in the Andean highlands and the Caribbean coast, but little European settlement took place in the Choco region of the Pacific coast and the Amazonian plains. Out of all Spanish nationalities, the Andalusians were the most represented, and one particular ethnic group, the Basques were present in main cities like Bogota, though Castilians are influential in the administration of the then Spanish colony of New Granada. Over time, Europeans intermarried often with indigenous peoples (i.e. the Chibchas), and sometimes with African slaves to produce a mixed-race population which are the majority of people in Colombia today.
Immigration from Europe
Colombia was one of early focus of Basque immigration. Between 1540 and 1559, 8.9 percent of the residents of Colombia were of Basque origin. It has been suggested that the present day incidence of business entrepreneurship in the region of Antioquia is attributable to the Basque immigration and Basque character traits. Few Colombians of distant Basque descent are aware of their Basque ethnic heritage. In Bogotá, there is a small colony of thirty to forty families who emigrated as a consequence of the Spanish Civil War or because of different opportunities. Basque priests were the ones that introduced handball into Colombia. Basque immigrants in Colombia were devoted to teaching and public administration. In the first years of the Andean multinational company, Basque sailors navigated as captains and pilots on the majority of the ships until the country was able to train its own crews. In December 1941 the United States government estimated that there were 4,000 Germans living in Colombia. There were some Nazi agitators in Colombia, such as Barranquilla businessman Emil Prufurt. Colombia invited Germans who were on the U.S. blacklist to leave. However, most German inhabitants arrived in the late 19th century as farmers and professionals. One such entrepreneur was Leo Siegfried Kopp, the founder of the brewery Bavaria.  SCADTA, a Colombian-German air transport corporation which was established by German expatriates in 1919, was the first commercial airline in the western hemisphere.
Immigration from the Middle East
The first and largest wave of immigration from the Middle East began around 1880, and remained during the first two decades of the twentieth century. They were mainly Maronite Christians from Greater Syria (Syria and Lebanon) and Palestine, fleeing the then colonized Ottoman Turkey territories. Syrians, Palestinians, and Lebanese continued since then to settle in Colombia. Due to poor existing information it's impossible to know the exact number of Lebanese and Syrians that immigrated to Colombia. A figure of 5,000-10,000 from 1880 to 1930 may be reliable. Whatever the figure, Syrians and Lebanese are perhaps the biggest immigrant group next to the Spanish since independence. Those who left their homeland in the Middle East to settle in Colombia left for different reasons such as religious, economic, and political reasons. Some left to experience the adventure of migration. After Barranquilla and Cartagena, Bogotá stuck next to Cali, among cities with the largest number of Arabic-speaking representatives in Colombia in 1945. The Arabs that went to Maicao were mostly Sunni Muslim with some Druze and Shiites, as well as Orthodox and Maronite Christians. The mosque of Maicao is the second largest mosque in Latin America. Middle Easterns are generally called Turco or Turkish. although they are primarily Christian Arab immigrants from what was then the Ottoman Empire.
Immigration by origin
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The city of Cali has the largest Asian community because of the its proximity to the Pacific Coast, they also live around the nation in other cities such as Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Bogotá and Medellín, the DANE say the Chinese population is growing 10% every year. In recent years, particularly Chinese restaurants have experienced a surge and have become popular businesses in nearly every Colombian city.
There is a large gap in our knowledge of the Chinese diaspora in Colombia in the period from the beginning of the twentieth century until the years 1970-1980. The century began with the political upheavals in China that led to the creation of two political factions among the Chinese in and outside China, and eventually caused the communist revolution and the founding of the two separate Chinese states, one on the mainland and one in Taiwan. The effect for the Chinese diaspora was the creation not only of political but also more differentiation between migrants and distinguished by locality of origin, language and history of migration. Thus, until today, in terms of organization, they are, on the one hand, the "Overseas Chinese Association", founded by Chinese who migrated to Colombia in the 1980s, and on the other, the Chinese Cultural Centre in Bogotá, founded in 1988 by a Taiwanese government institution (Zhang 1991).
Moreover, we know that in 1970 there were over 6,000 Chinese living in Colombia, which means that they kept coming to this country. We can assume that the anti-immigrant atmosphere in many countries was the major cause of continued Chinese immigration to Colombia. The migration did not come from China, because during the first three decades of the People's Republic of China, emigration was severely restricted. In fact, we know that in the early twentieth century, due to xenophobia in the United States, a large number of Chinese migrated to Colombia. Restrepo (2001) states that at this time various groups of immigrants settled in Barranquilla.
The rise of Chinese anti-immigration laws in the United States during the 1980s allowed many Chinese to emigrate from Colombia to the United States. As a result, of the 5,600 people of Chinese origin reported in 1982 (Poston and Yu 1990) in the 1990s were only 3,400, most of whom live in Bogota, Barranquilla, Cali, Cartagena, Medellin, Santa Marta, Manizales, Cucuta and Pereira. All these movements, flows of people around the world support the notion that the "Chinese diaspora" is far from staying in a country, take an identity, and/or "assimilate". Political, economic, social and personal issues contributed to the circulation of the Chinese movement between various locations. These factors also have an important influence in the forms of residence and, more recently, in human trafficking. 
About 3,000 North Americans arrived in Barranquilla during the late 19th century. By 1958, American immigrants comprised 10% of all immigrants living in Colombia. There are now between 30,000-40,000 United States citizens living in Colombia. Many of whom Colombians emigrants to the United States who chose to return to Colombia. The barrio El prado, Paraiso and some others were created by Americans, also schools and universities were built by American architects such as the Universidad del Norte, the American School and many more.
When enumerated by citizenship many Americans are from families which emigrated to the United States and then repatriated.
Many Arab immigrants have arrived in Colombia from Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. The Arabs settled mostly in the northern coast, in cities such as Barranquilla, Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Maicao, where about 20% of the population have Arab ancestry. Gradually they began to settle inland too except for Antioquia). Many Colombians of Arab descent derive from Catholics/Maronites from Lebanon or Syria.
Early Jewish settlers were converted Jews, known as Marranos, from Spain. In the years prior to World War II there was a second wave of Jewish immigrants fleeing persecution from the Nazis. Most Colombian Jews live in Barranquilla, Cali, Medellín and Bogotá. There are only nine synagogues throughout the entire country.
Gypsies came during colonial times, often forced by the Spanish to move to South America. Gypsies also came during World War I and World War II. Most of them settled in the metropolitan area of Barranquilla.
Spanish immigration in what is now Colombia was massive and continuous throughout the colonial period. Spanish descendants, a majority of which mixed to varying degrees with indigenous peoples over the centuries, form the bulk of the Colombian population. After a brief period in which it stopped abruptly following independence, immigration slowly resumed albeit at a much lower level. In the 20th century there was another wave of Spanish immigrants fleeing persecution from the Franquistas during and after the Spanish Civil War. Migration also spiked as a result of economic hardships in Spain during the 50s. Due to high unemployment in Spain, several hundreds of Spaniards have emigrated to Colombia for better working prospects in recent years (2008 onwards). Furthermore, several thousands of Colombians who emigrated to Spain from 1990 to 2010 (about 280,000 people) now return to Colombia, and sometimes have dual citizenship.
Italian immigration in Colombia was quite reduced compared to other Latin American countries such as Argentina and Venezuela. The Italian immigrant population in Colombia, is mostly in cities such as Cartagena, Bogotá and Medellín where the largest community lives. The Italians have left some imprint in the Colombian language and gastronomy.
Particularly in the 19th century, but also in the 20th century. Many Colombians of German heritage arrived in Colombia via Venezuela, where 19th century German settlements have existed. They traditionally settled as farmers or professional workers in the states of Boyacá and Santander, but also in Cali, Bogotá and Barranquilla. One famous German immigrant of the 19th century was German-Jewish entrepreneur Leo Siegfried Kopp who founded the brewery Bavaria. Other German groups arrived in Colombia later: after World War I (many opticians and other professional businesses in Bogotá were founded by German immigrants in the 1910s), and after World War II, some of them Nazis or on the black list. Many of them changed their surnames for common surnames of the region. Many Germans left Colombia during the 80's.
In the 19th and 20th century many Russians went to Bucaramanga, Santander, Colombia; in the 20th century they came to escape communism and the Soviet government. The former USSR (1917-1991) included other nations like Lithuania and Ukraine.
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There is a French community in Colombia, mainly concentrated in the coastal cities of Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Cartagena, and Santa Marta. French immigration began in a regular pattern during the 19th century and highly influenced the country's economic and political systems (the Betancourt family are of French descent) and entertainment industry. Some WWII refugees from France came to Colombia, but often for a temporary time. Nowadays, Colombia has also become a cheap tourist or retirement destination for French citizens. Contrary to common perceptions, the frequent Colombian surname Betancourt does not signal French descent but rather descent from the Canary Islands (Spain), where it is common since the islands were conquered and submitted by Frenchman Juan de Betancourt for the Spanish crown in the 16th century.
The Venezuelan population in Colombia is increasing, due to political instability and crime. Large populations of Venezuelans are found in Bogotá, Cali, Medellín, Bucaramanga, and Cúcuta. Whilst in the past up to two million Colombians have emigrated to Venezuela in search for better living conditions, in the first ten years of the 21st century the trend has reversed and Venezuelans increasingly emigrate to Colombia.
Being the first country in the Americas to offer full rights to citizens of African descent, many Africans settled here during the late 19th and early 20th century.
Numbers of people by nationality in Colombia
|Rest of Americas||5,827|
|Rest of Europe||3,757|
|Rest of Asia||3,382|
|Source: DANE (2005)|
- Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World by William A. Douglass, Jon Bilbao, P.167
- Possible paradises: Basque emigration to Latin America by José Manuel Azcona Pastor, P.203
- Latin America during World War II by Thomas M. Leonard, John F. Bratzel, P.117
- (Spanish) webislam.com: La comunidad musulmana de Maicao (Colombia) webislam.com
- (Spanish) Luis Angel Arango Library: Los sirio-libaneses en Colombia lablaa.org
- Fleischer, F. (2012). La diáspora china: un acercamiento a la migración china en Colombia. Revista de Estudios Sociales, (42), 71-79. Recuperado de http://dx.doi.org/10.7440/res42.2012.07
- Litaliano in Colombia (in Italian)
- Lugar de nacimiento (Spanish) DANE
- Massey, Douglas S., Arango, Joaquín, Graeme, Hugo, Kouaouci, Ali, Pellegrino, Adela and Taylor, J. Edward (2005), Worlds in Motion: Understanding International Migration at the End of the Millennium, New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-928276-5.
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