24/02/2023 – What do Uruguayans think about foreigners?

A 2023 survey reveals that Uruguayan attitudes to immigrants are very different to other polarised parts of the world.

Uruguay considers itself a nation of immigrants. However, the country that I moved to in 2000 hadn’t seen significant inbound immigration since the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Uruguay experienced a significant influx of European immigrants, mainly from Spain, Italy and Germany.

So in 2000, Uruguay felt pretty homogenous. And certainly as a foreigner, especially an English speaking one, I was asked constantly what I was doing in Uruguay “when we all want to go where you come from”.

However, in the last five or so years Uruguay has started to receive what I term a third wave of immigration, coming primarily from our neighbours—Argentina and Brazil—but also from Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

It’s now easy to find tropical fruits in a grocery store, thanks to these immigrants and in the capital you’ll often hear Caribbean accents, especially when walking in the old city where I live.

As I mentioned in my article about my frustrations with Uruguay, well-turned-out friendly Venezuelans in particular have found roles front-of-desk in hospitality and service industries.

So what do you Uruguayans think about this? I was excited to see a survey out last month which asked Uruguayans about their attitudes regarding immigrants.

The survey was carried out with 400 adults selected on the basis of gender, age, geography and political preference.

Do Uruguayans trust people of another nationality

73% said that they did and just 13% that they did not trust foreigners (14% didn’t answer or didn’t know).

Socio-economic levels had more of an impact than age. People who are well-off are highly receptive to foreigners: 87% trust foreigners and just 5% do not trust them. Whereas 62% of working-class people trust foreigners while 20% who do not trust them.

Location also had an impact. Half of all Uruguayans live in the capital, Montevideo. 79% of Montevideans surveyed said they trusted foreigners with just 7% distrusting foreigners. Whereas in the interior, 65% distrusted trusted foreigners versus 21% who did not.

Interestingly, the youngest people surveyed (ages 18 to 29) together with the oldest (over 60) were most likely to trust foreigners—79% and 78% respectively. 

The other difference was regarding political affiliations. 83% of people who voted for the centre-left Frente Amplio in the last elections (2019) trusted foreigners and just 3% did not trust foreigners. Of those who voted for the current government, a centre-right coalition, 70% trust foreigners and 19% do not.

Do Uruguayans think that foreigners will improve their society with ideas and culture

65% agreed with the statement and 19% disagreed.

Do Uruguayans think that foreigners should have the same access to health, education and housing as citizens

A staggering 83% are in agreement with only 12% in disagreement.

[This is especially impressive when you note that foreigners have the same access to health, education and housing as citizens. Learn more]

Do Uruguayans think that foreigners are good for the economy

60% were in agreement with the statement whilst 23% were in disagreement.

Do Uruguayans think employers should give priority to locals over foreigners when work is scarce

42% were in agreement, 29% did not feel strongly either way and 26% believed that locals should not be prioritised over immigrants in that case.

The youngest people surveyed were significantly more in favour of a level playing field in the workplace. 39% felt that there should be no discrimination in favour of locals and 30% had no strong opinion. 31% felt that locals should be prioritised. In comparison, all other age brackets (people over 30) were more likely to feel the locals should be given priority (45 to 47%, depending on age group).

Do Uruguayans think the country should help foreigners who have suffered political persecution

72% agree with the statement with 14% disagreeing.

Download the full survey results (in Spanish) from the Usina de Percepción Ciudadana.

Background: Where are foreigners living in Uruguay from?

Data from the National Institute of Statistics of Uruguay shows that in 2020, the top five countries of origin were:

  • Argentina (61,166)
  • Brazil (23,427)
  • Venezuela (22,875)
  • Cuba (5,570)
  • Spain (5,078).

It’s worth noting that these figures refer to people who have obtained Uruguayan residency, and not all immigrants may have done so. For instance, Argentines and Brazilians have the right to live in Uruguay as members of Mercosur (the Southern Cone’s equivalent of the EU).

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