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Migration and the 2030 Agenda in Argentina

La migración y la Agenda 2030 en Argentina
Migrations et le Programme 2030 de l’Argentine
Gabriela Agosto and Fabiana Rubinstein


The United Nations 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) constitute the most ambitious development agenda agreed upon at the global level, with an integrated and indivisible approach to economic, social and environmental dimensions. All 17 SDGs, and initiatives to achieve them, have a direct impact on the well-being of migrant populations—which is reinforced through the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM).

Argentina has been receiving and welcoming migrants for many years and has in place favourable regulations on migration, such as equal access to social services. Migrants have made important contributions to the construction of Argentina and to its development process, in social, economic and cultural matters.

The country, however, faces major challenges related to overcoming structural deficits, reducing social inequality, achieving economic and productive development and achieving the SDGs. These challenges were heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With regard to migrants, overcoming inequality when it comes to their incorporation into and full participation in the labour market—as well as to other deficits affecting them, such as poverty and housing conditions—is a matter for the public agenda if the country is to achieve the full inclusion of migrants and to comply with the 2030 Agenda’s criterion of leaving no one behind.

Argentina has shown that it is interested in the well-being of migrants and has recognised their contribution to development and the shaping of its society. This is reflected in the deployment of public policies that have a positive impact on the living conditions of the migrant population. But it is also evident in the approach that the country has taken to the 2030 Agenda, which constitutes the main framework for development and for facing pending challenges.

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1. Introduction

1Argentina has been receiving and welcoming migrants for many years and has in place favourable regulations on migration, such as equal access to social services. The country, however, faces major challenges related to overcoming structural deficits, reducing social inequality, achieving economic and productive development and achieving the SDGs. These challenges were heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

2The global and continental political and economic transformations that have taken place in recent decades have accelerated intra-regional human mobility in South America. In the Southern Cone, some countries are mainly recipients of migration (Argentina, Brazil and Chile) whereas others are clear net expellers of migrants (Venezuela, Paraguay, Bolivia and Uruguay), with the expelled mainly going to Argentina.

3Simultaneously, development theories are being intensely debated, both because of challenges to conventional economic development ideas, based on alternative development approaches related to sustainable development, the feminist economy, etc., and because of conceptualisations of disciplines related basically to practical philosophy. Thus, the concept of development has become more heterogeneous and the debate more complex, with new perspectives and dimensions (the green economy, circular economy, technology revolution and ‘capitalism with human face’).

4The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) constitute the most ambitious development agenda agreed upon at the global level, with an integrated and indivisible approach to economic, social and environmental dimensions. This chapter will address the characterisation of the migrant population in Argentina. It will also analyse that population’s living conditions, as well as public policies that impacted migrants from 2015 to 2020 within the framework of the 2030 Agenda and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) (UNGA, 2019), recognising that these instruments’ contribution to public management in the field lies in their capacity to operationalise government goals in the form of indicators, and in the political agreements struck for this purpose. Argentina has shown that it is interested in the well-being of migrants and has recognised their contribution to development and the shaping of its society. This is reflected in the deployment of public policies, such as access to education and healthcare, that have a positive impact on the living conditions of the migrant population. But it is also evident in the approach that the country has taken to the 2030 Agenda, which constitutes the main framework, approved by the Argentinian government in 2015, for development and for facing pending challenges.

5Argentina faces challenges related to overcoming structural deficits, reducing social inequality, and economic development within the framework of the SDGs. These challenges, heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, are linked directly to social inclusion and redistribution mechanisms. Even though Argentina is a middle-income country, gaps remain.

6The country is a republic with a long history of the regular reception of migrants. There are different migration flows, with characteristics that are reflected in current migrant groups. Migrants’ access to mechanisms that enable them to meet their own basic needs and to have a good quality of life is determined by the social situation of the society to which they migrate, and other factors such as the regulatory framework, social representations regarding migrants and the social protection system and social policies implemented.

7This chapter presents the situation of the migrant population of Argentina from a development perspective linked to the 2030 Agenda, understanding that the concept of development contained in the Agenda provides the guidelines that allow the dynamics of development to be operationalised from an integral perspective and shared internationally.

8The chapter’s analysis aims to contribute to the implementation of public policies. Overcoming inequality when it comes to migrants’ incorporation into and full participation in the labour market—as well as to other deficits affecting them, such as poverty and housing conditions—is a matter for the public agenda if the country is to achieve the full inclusion of its migrant population.

2. Definition of Development and the 2030 Agenda

9The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the 2030 Agenda in September 2015, when it approved its 17 SDGs and its 169 targets that, among other aims, seek to eradicate poverty and hunger, ensure healthy lives and quality education, promote gender equality, guarantee access to water and sanitation, reduce inequalities, combat injustices and protect the planet (UNGA, 2015).

10Our starting point for this chapter was a broad notion of ‘development’, understood as a series of fundamental transformations, including industrialisation, urbanisation and globalisation. Development thus understood constitutes a planned intervention for the improvement of human well-being, or the expansion of achievable opportunities. Every definition of development itself entails an ethical framework. 

11According to authors such as Gasper (2012), development is a field that is heavily charged with ethics. What risks are to be taken, and what are interventions for? What do ‘improvement of living conditions’, ‘well-being’, and ‘a good life’ mean? Who benefits; who loses? Who decides what ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ looks like? Who decides on the prioritisation of values? Various conceptions focus on different dimensions of development. The field of development is so broad that there are limits to how far the analogy with other areas of professional ethics can be stretched. This does not in itself constitute an argument against careful ethical consideration of problems and possibilities in development policy and practice. The global scope of ‘development’ makes it less a particular, specialised area and more a meta-area that aims to link and inform many other areas.

12From a theoretical viewpoint, the definition of and discerning the dimensions of the conceptualisation of development are rendered impossible in complete and univocal terms. The establishment of development action dimensions and development’s actionability require agreements and consensus, many and much of which should be the starting point for specific adaptations linked to the context and time frame.

13The ethics of development lies at the intersection of other fields. Each has its own concerns and the nature of each may change over time. 

  • 1 Including Amartya Sen’s work on welfare economics criticism and human development theory, or critic (...)

14Various ‘development’ practices relate, for example, to socio-economic development; policies, programmes and projects; human rights activism and practices; emergency aid, conflict, and humanitarian intervention; the world of employment and corporate social responsibility; migration; and climate change. Each practice, in turn, brings with it various theories, such as the criticism of conventional economics,1 the theory of human rights and its jurisprudence, or feminist theory. The ethics of development includes and interconnects each of these multiple reflection sites (Gasper and Truong, 2010).

15An introduction to the various concepts of development and unfolding the body of literature thereon is beyond the scope of this chapter, which focuses, rather, on the complexity and diversity of currents. As previously stated, development is more a meta-area that aims to link and inform many other areas.

16Since the 1990s, in part through the leadership provided by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and later that of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, a positive link has been established between development and human rights. The 1945 Charter of the United Nations proclaims the dignity of the human person and respect for human rights, and seeks to maintain peace through international co-operation and collective security by fostering peace among nations and promoting social progress and better standards of life and respect for human rights.

17The first High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, held in 2006, the second, in 2013, the inclusion of migration in the SDGs in 2015, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants in 2016, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR), adopted in December 2018, constitute some of the milestones that highlight the role that migration has been playing in the international community’s development and migration debates, and are interconnected instruments that contribute to migration governance.

18The role of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) at the international and the national level has been key both in promoting the agendas of states and civil society and in the role given to the voices of migrants, as can be seen in the documents of the IOM, published on its official pages.

19How can development ideas be proposed so that they have broad appeal and yet practical applicability? And so that they are also widely promoted and adopted? 

20The worlds of ideas and of actions are not always linked linearly. The cultural and ideological component imparts its perspectives and lines of action, but in human history these have not always strengthened cohesion and the common good. In the history of humankind, however, there are achievements that show the ability of people around the world to co-operate and agree on basic principles, one such being the Declaration of Human Rights.

21Since its creation, the UN has made efforts to take agendas that promote rights and to translate them into resolutions and action plans, agendas for the various areas of human activity. The speed of the globalisation process increasingly requires that such agreements be validated by a large number of countries if they are to be effective.

22The work carried out by UN Member States and by academics, civil society and the private sector—in parallel with the follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—led, after 15 years of negotiations, to the adoption of the 2030 sustainable development agenda, in which a conceptual framework is proposed based on an integrated and comprehensive vision of development focusing on people, prosperity, peace, partnerships and the planet.

23Both the MDGs and the next step—so, the 2030 Agenda—constitute the arena in which 193 countries of the world agreed on guidelines for advancing development, defined as sustainable development. 

24The conceptual framework proposed by the Agenda translates into 17 SDGs, which in turn seek to be reference points with metrics for monitoring progress and achievements, and link the SDGs with the means necessary for their achievement. 

25The 2030 Agenda calls on countries to work to adapt these metrics to their individual reality at the national and the local level. In Latin America and the Caribbean, there is also a regional monitoring platform, led by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), that aims for follow-up with regard to countries that have adopted the Agenda. 

  • 2 METADATA is a system of indicators that tracks goals, targets and indicators, and establishes basel (...)

26The adaptation process carried out by Argentina, in addition to including indicators adapted or adopted for the 17 SDGs as recorded in METADATA,2 established cross-cutting parameters to highlight specific aspects or population groups. In this way, Argentina was able to establish gender perspectives and address people with disabilities and indigenous and migrant populations in a cross-cutting logic.

3. The 2030 Agenda in Argentina vis-à-vis Migrants

27All the SDGs and the initiatives designed to achieve them have a direct impact on the well-being of migrant populations since they constitute an integrated and deeply rooted group in Argentine society. It is worth mentioning that the definition of migrant is the one established by the IOM:

a person who moves away from his or her usual residence, whether within a country or across an international border, temporarily or permanently, and for a variety of reasons. The term includes a number of well-defined legal categories of people, such as migrant workers; persons whose particular types of movements are legally defined, such as smuggled migrants; as well as those whose status or means of movement are not specifically defined under international law, such as international students. (IOM, 2019, 132)

28Full implementation of the 2030 Agenda requires states to carry out an analysis of their goals and targets in light of their local context in order to orient their policies with the aim of achieving all the SDGs. In the Agenda, the central reference to migration appears in Goal 10, ‘Reduce inequality within and among countries’, Target 7 of which calls on states to ‘Facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies’ (UNGA, 2015, 21).

29Argentina adheres to the 2030 Agenda and manages and prioritises in a manner adapted to the local reality, setting national targets and indicators. Monitoring is organised through an inter-ministerial body, with the participation of all national ministries, in coordination with provincial and municipal governments and the involvement of civil society organisations and business sectors.

30This process of implementing and monitoring the SDGs is coordinated by the National Council for Coordination of Social Policies (CNCPS), an agency created in 2002 by National Decree 357 to coordinate, articulate and monitor social policies at the national level in order to ensure they are implemented in an efficient manner (Government of Argentina, 2002). Thus, in a similar vein to its mandate to implement the outcomes of the Millennium Summit, in December 2015 this agency was mandated to coordinate the follow-up of the 2030 Agenda. It is in charge of placing the SDGs on the public agenda, and with the commitment of various levels of the state and society it seeks to achieve the goals and works to define targets and indicators and their subsequent monitoring. This is a participatory process, in which through debate and the building of political and technical consensus the national agenda is defined in relation to the SDGs by adapting the international agenda to the national context and establishing actions to achieve the proposed goals (CNCPS, 2021).

31The engagement of UN representatives during the process of prioritising the Agenda worked as a catalyst for the country’s implementation strategy. The inclusion of IOM in the UN system in 2016 further boosted migration dynamics in inter-agency work and in state–civil society relations within the framework of the sustainable development agenda.

32In this process, Argentina has taken a rights-based approach, recognising cross-cutting issues, especially gender, migrant status, cultural affiliation, life cycle, disability status and any particularly vulnerable situation. This is reflected in Target 17.18,3 which, adapted, states: ‘By 2030, improve support for capacity-building, to significantly increase the availability of timely, reliable and high-quality data disaggregated by brackets such as income, gender, age, migration status, disability, geographical location and other relevant features in the national context’.4

33In Argentina’s initial monitoring system, the indicators related to migration corresponded to five SDGs (1, 3, 6, 8 and 10), six targets (1.2, 1.4, 3.3, 6.2, 8.8 and 10.7) and 12 indicators that enabled quantification based on various official sources (Census, Permanent Household Survey (EPH), Complementary International Migration Survey, and various administrative records); detailed information can be found on the official pages of Argentina’s 2030 Agenda (CNCPS, 2020).

34Thus, the country’s interest in issues related to migration is reflected both in the inclusion of goals related to the migrant population and in work carried out in coordination with Argentina’s IOM country office. A base scenario of the investment by the Argentine state in the welfare of migrants was created, estimating public social spending allocated to migrants. And migrant living conditions were analysed to facilitate monitoring with regard to SDG 1 (End poverty).

35Migrants have been central players in Argentina’s history and development, as protagonists, drivers and beneficiaries. This central role of migration in Argentina led to it being considered an important axis in the approach to the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs. The consolidation of the Argentine nation state took place largely due to the migratory waves of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

36Following a change of Administration in December 2019 and in the context of COVID-19, the continuity of the prioritised objectives is being reassessed. Argentina’s Second Voluntary Report, presented in July 2020 at the UN High-level Political Forum, highlighted a focus on SDG 1 and SDG 2 (CNCPS, 2020).

4. Migrants in Argentina

37As Gurrieri (2016) argues, Argentina’s migration policy has a continuity in the sense of the country’s acceptance of the contributions of international migration. Governmental contexts (democratic or dictatorial) change the politics of migration. Democratic governments respect migration rights; dictatorial regimes, meanwhile, establish restrictions, and allow entry only when certain criteria (secured income or ‘legal’ work within the country) are fulfilled.

38The country’s long history of receiving and welcoming migrants has long been reflected in Argentinean law. As early as 1853, the preamble to the first National Constitution reflected how open Argentina was and how rights extended to ‘all men in the world who want to inhabit the Argentine territory’ (General Constituent Assembly of Argentina, 1994). Article 25 of the Argentine Constitution states, ‘The Federal Government shall foster European immigration; and may not restrict, limit or burden with any tax whatsoever, the entry into Argentine territory of foreigners who arrive for the purpose of tilling the soil, improving industries, and introducing and teaching arts and sciences’ (General Constituent Assembly of Argentina, 1994).

39Thus, during the period when Argentina was being shaped as a nation the legal bases for facilitating and promoting migrants’ access to the country were laid. It is worth mentioning that the first Immigration Law (1876), referred to as the ‘Avellaneda Law’ (after the then president), promoted policies to attract immigrants—in particular from Europe—in order to populate the Argentine territory, within the framework of an agro-export economic model (Government of Argentina, 1876).

40Subsequent regulations, however, took a more selective approach, and adopted a more repressive bias with regard to ‘undesirable’ migrants. The 1902 Residence Act, for example, extends the powers of the executive branch to expel migrants, and the 1910 National Defense Act, which enforced a selective policy vis-à-vis immigrants, and Law 22.439, issued by the country’s last military dictatorship in 1981 and referred to as the ‘Videla Law’, both take a more restrictive view of migration. Despite the fact that the establishment of democratic governments brought with it debates about law, legislative projects, regulations, the activation of civil society and human rights organisations, and constitutional reform, it took more than two decades for the last of these laws to be repealed (Government of Argentina, 1981).

41In 2004, a democratic government repealed the Videla Law by consensus. A new law was passed with a view to recognising migration as a human right. Article 4 of the new law reads, ‘Migration is an essential and inalienable human right, which the Argentine Republic will guarantee based on principles of equality and universality’ (OAS, 2006). The law, which also deals with the labour and social and cultural integration of foreigners residing in the country, was amended in 2010.

42Alongside the migration paradigm shift that took place in Argentina in 2004, it is also worth mentioning the National Programme for Migration Documentary Standardization for Migrants from Mercosur Countries, known as the ‘Patria Grande Programme’, which was implemented for the regularisation of migrants and the integration of residents in irregular situations under the auspices of the Ministry of the Interior (Ministerio del Interior).

43A legal framework conducive to migration does not, however, always guarantee the full integration of migrants into society. The various levels of acceptance of the migrant population in Argentina are linked to their countries of origin and their economic situations. Cohen (2016, 164, translated by the authors) points out that

the current discourse of civil society on migration at the end of the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century is an uplifting discourse, rich in positive qualifications, which recognize in [migrants] a very important part of our national identity. However, the discourse on migrations of South American origin and other more recent migrations of oriental origin is disqualifying, inferiorising, and constantly establishes impervious borders that separate what should be from what not, what should be normal from what is pathological, what is proper from what is alien.

44Throughout its history, Argentina has received different migratory flows, which have shaped a heterogeneous social group from different backgrounds. From the mid-1800s to 1930, there was a large influx of Europeans, in particular Italians and Spaniards, which created a ‘white Argentina’ and is at the origin of the phrase ‘Argentines come from the boats’, although both the phrase and the concept ignore and reject native populations and migration from neighbouring countries.

45Levels of this strictly speaking overseas migration fell in later years—with the exception of the last years of WWII—and from the mid-twentieth century on migrants have increasingly come from neighbouring countries.

46The presence of migrants from neighbouring countries was already recorded in early national censuses. In particular Paraguayans, Uruguayans and Bolivians were present, and their proportions have increased in recent censuses, rising from 20 per cent of the total number of migrants in the first national census, of 1869, to 69 percent in the 2010 census, as can be seen in figure 12.1.

47This decrease in migration from Europe and increase in migration from neighbouring countries has generated a migrant population of a variety of origins.

Figure 12.1 Proportions of migrants by origin (1869‒2010)

Figure 12.1 Proportions of migrants by origin (1869‒2010)

Source: National censuses (INDEC, 2021).

48The impact of the great migratory wave that began in the mid-1800s can be seen clearly in the data from the 1914 Census, which shows that three out of ten inhabitants of the country were foreigners. This number falls in subsequent censuses but remains high. More recent censuses, meanwhile, reveal that around 5 per cent of the population are migrants, and that this proportion is stable. This evolution can be seen in figure 12.2.

Figure 12.2 Total number of immigrants in Argentina and their proportion of the total population

Figure 12.2 Total number of immigrants in Argentina and their proportion of the total population

Source: National censuses (INDEC, 2021).

49The massive migratory waves of the last century are linked to economic crises, such as the Great Depression, and to civil wars and the world wars. These different waves and migratory flows, each with their particular characteristics in terms of both their intensity and their origin, are reflected in the current migrant collective, which comprises overseas migration, in particular of Europeans, and migrants from neighbouring countries and other countries in Latin America, such as Peru, Colombia and Venezuela.

50A decade has elapsed since the last census, but the Permanent Household Survey conducted by INDEC (Argentinian National Institute of Statistics and Censuses) provides more recent data, in particular about urban centres throughout the country. By 2019, 5 per cent of the Argentine population was not native and one in ten households had a migrant among its members. The United Nations estimates that the total number of migrants in Argentina reached 2.2 million in 2019 (UN, 2019).

51This population has settled and consolidated itself in the country, and many of its members have been resident for a number of years: only 11 percent of migrants arrived in the last five years, and at the time of the last National Census (2010) seven out of ten migrants had resided in Argentina for more than ten years.

52The migrant population is most concentrated in the Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires (AMBA), where it makes up around 8 per cent of the total population (EPH and INDEC, 2021).

53Within the migrant population, with regard to origin three groups can be distinguished, as shown in figure 12.3: those from Latin American countries (with significant numbers from Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru, and more recently Colombia and Venezuela), which account for 84 per cent of the total; those from Europe, an ageing population with a significant presence and longer residence; and those from elsewhere in the world, including migrants from Asian and African countries.

Figure 12.3 Migrants by origin

Figure 12.3 Migrants by origin

Source: EPH and INDEC, 2021 (data for 2018).

54Within the population of Latin American origin, Paraguayans, Bolivians and Peruvians stand out, collectively comprising 71 per cent of migrants in the country. If, however, we consider the total number of permanent and temporary residency permits granted between 2018 and 2020, Venezuelans also come to the fore, accounting for 36 per cent of grantees (IOM, 2021). The political instability that Venezuela has been experiencing for more than a decade due to certain characteristics of the ‘regime of President Maduro’ has led many Venezuelans to leave in search of better living conditions.

55If we analyse the age of the migrant population, we observe that most are in the active working age bracket (68 per cent) (between 19 and 65 years of age), while older adults comprise a quarter of the total and children and teenagers up to the age of 18 only 7 per cent. These figures reveal a more adult and ageing population than that of native Argentines. The low figure for the young speaks of migration mainly comprised of individuals forming families with other migrants or with a native of the country, and the fact that children born in Argentina to migrant parents or to migrant–Argentine households are considered Argentine.

56There is also a phenomenon of the feminisation of migration, since the percentage of women in the total number of migrants is higher than that in the native population (55 per cent against 52 per cent).

57With regard to living conditions, it is worth mentioning that in 2019 poverty affected migrants and non-migrants in Argentina to a similar degree (35.2 per cent and 35.7 per cent, respectively), but the numbers change if the heterogeneity of migrants is taken into account, the figure rising to 42.7 per cent for those from neighbouring countries. Destitution also affects migrants more than it does native Argentines—9.7 per cent versus 8 per cent. For those migrants from neighbouring countries, this figure increases to 12.4 per cent (EPH and INDEC, 2021, data for the second semester 2019).

58The incidence of poverty among the migrant population varies according to age. While half of the migrant children in Argentina belong to poor households, the figure is only 8.7 per cent for adults 65 years of age and over (IOM and CNCPS 2019).

59With regard to the household unit, households with migrant members are in a relatively disadvantaged position, with 26 per cent having incomes that do not cover their total basic basket; the figure falls to 21 per cent for non-migrant households (IOM and CNCPS 2019).

60A study of the living conditions of migrants in Argentina (IOM and CNCPS, 2019) concludes that one of the main determinants of poverty among migrants is their working conditions, not in particular because they are affected by unemployment but because there is a tendency for migrants to have more informal jobs and thus lower incomes. Among migrants, there are lower rates of waged employment and a higher proportion of self-employed, and they also tend to be involved in certain branches, such as commerce, construction and domestic service. Difficulties in accessing quality jobs and the precarious inclusion conditions faced by migrants result in higher levels of poverty.

61In short, the living conditions of migrants are largely determined by their access to coverage of their basic food, housing, health and education needs and access to employment. Social inclusion does not, however, end there. As Mármora (2017) argues, the social inclusion of migrants takes place in three dimensions. The first involves guaranteeing the recognised human rights of migrants, understanding them as beneficiaries of civil, political, and social rights, and recognising their social and cultural diversity. The second dimension concerns the interaction of migrants with the host society, as social players with the capacity to transform their social surroundings. The third includes the governance of the migrant inclusion process, and it is there that the state and its public policies play a central role.

5. Public Policies Impacting Migrants’ Living Conditions

62Migrants’ degree of access to their basic needs and a good quality of life is mainly determined by the social situation of the society to which they migrate. There are, however, other relevant factors at work, including the regulatory framework of the host country, dominant social representations and collective thinking regarding migrants, and the historically constructed social protection system, as well as the social policies that are deployed and implemented.

63Argentina, as already noted, has favourable regulations with regard to migration. Equal access to social services is guaranteed for migrants by the legislation currently in force. The Immigration Act, Law 25.871, states in article 6 that ‘The State, in all its jurisdictions, shall ensure equal access for immigrants and their families under the same conditions of protection, due process, and rights enjoyed by citizens, especially as regards social services, public assets, health, education, justice, labour, employment, and social security’ (OAS, 2006). Thus, the regulatory framework ensures migrants’ access to healthcare, education and social protection, regardless of their residence and documentation status, equating migrants’ rights with those of native nationals.

64The image that is built in society vis-à-vis foreigners is another determinant of migrants’ access to social services. Representations that see migrants as a threat, the association of their presence with an increase in crime, seeing them as abusive in their use of public services, or the idea of their being responsible for growing unemployment are hindrances to the social inclusion of migrants, and thus impact their quality of life.

65According to the National Discrimination Map put together in 2014 by the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI), representations of migrants are closely linked to perceptions of their professional competence; in other words, migrants were seen as denying Argentines employment opportunities. The same report notes that migrants from neighbouring countries were victims of significant discrimination, with Bolivians being the most affected (INADI, 2014).

66Historical, overseas migration is not judged using the same framework as that used to judge more recent, South American migration: while the former’s contribution to the social construction of Argentina and the shaping of national identity is valued, in some cases the latter has been negatively viewed.

67With regard to the social protection system, the state is an important player in the system’s efforts to ensure a basic level of well-being for the entire population, guaranteeing full enjoyment of rights.

68In Argentina, the social protection system and the enjoyment of social benefits have been built on access to salaried work and consequently on a contributory system. However, successive socio-economic crises, which resulted not only in increased unemployment but also in the proliferation of informal work, have forced the state to expand its intervention to non-contributory policies—that is to say, benefits are granted irrespective of contributions, with the aim of making rights universal.

69The Argentine social protection system therefore includes not only traditional social security benefits but also interventions aimed at ensuring the well-being of the entire population, in particular non-remunerative income programmes. As Cecchini and Martínez argue, social protection ‘goes beyond people living in poverty by seeking to guarantee minimum levels of protection for all citizens: “protection as a citizen guarantee”, which provides basic guidelines for achieving comprehensive and inclusive social protection’ (Cecchini and Martínez, 2011, 38–39).

70We will now discuss access to health, education, and social protection including retirement and pensions, as well as income transfer policies, before addressing national public social expenditure and its impact on the situation of migrants.

5.1 Access to Healthcare

71With regard to healthcare, article 8 of the Immigration Act states that ‘Access to the right of health, and to social or medical care for all foreign nationals that require it, shall not be denied or restricted under any circumstances, regardless of their legal status’ (OAS, 2006).

72The health system in Argentina has a public healthcare subsystem. Although there are other health subsystems—such as those linked to worker compensation and union healthcare services (referred to as ‘obras sociales), or those related to private health insurance services—it is the state that guarantees universal access to healthcare through primary healthcare centres and public hospitals. Administrative barriers (such as the need to present Argentine documents) or communication problems (due to language issues) with healthcare providers or other sociocultural differences contribute to different access outcomes; a stereotypical and prejudiced approach by healthcare professionals can also affect migrants’ access to healthcare (Jelin, 2006).

73According to the last National Census, of 2010, 38 per cent of the population of Argentina have access to public healthcare alone, 46 per cent have social security benefits, and 16 per cent have private healthcare.

74As they have more precarious and unregistered jobs, migrants show higher levels of dependence on public healthcare. While three out of ten Argentines have public healthcare coverage only, for migrants the figure rises to four out of ten, and is even higher if we only consider Latin American migrants (46.5 per cent).

75The ‘Sumar Programme’, created by the Argentine Ministry of Education, provides coverage for mothers, for children and young adults aged from 6 to 19, and for women and men up to the age of 64 who are not covered by worker/union or private health insurance. The programme offers the migrant population access to healthcare by allowing registration with an Argentine National Identity Card (DNI), but also with a foreign passport or other ID document (Government of Argentina, 2012).

76The opportunity to access treatment in hospitals and public healthcare centres does not, however, necessarily imply treatment’s effective use by migrants, as other obstacles may interfere with unrestricted access to healthcare.

77In the above-mentioned study conducted by INADI, 39 per cent of respondents agree with the statement, ‘When you go to a hospital there are no available appointments/beds because many people come from other places to get healthcare services’. Thus, migrants are not only perceived as a threat in the labour market, but also when it comes to access to hospital care (INADI, 2014, 98).

78Finkelstein (2017) explores the perceptions of public healthcare professionals in the City of Buenos Aires with regard to service use by migrants, identifying four categories—migrants are seen as: (i) service abusers, (ii) users who pose challenges and/or difficulties when it comes to addressing their problems, (iii) users in a vulnerable condition, or (iv) carriers of imported, exotic diseases that are considered ‘health hazards’. These negative perceptions limit access to healthcare and thus the implementation and achievement of global development goals.

5.2 Access to Education

79With regard to education, article 7 of the Immigration Act states that ‘Under no circumstances shall a foreign national’s illegal migratory status preclude enrolment as a student in a public, private, national, provincial, or municipal educational institution at the elementary, secondary or higher levels’ (OAS, 2006).

80In a similar vein, the National Education Act states that

The National State, the Provinces and the City of Buenos Aires shall guarantee access, and favourable conditions for migrants without a National ID Document (DNI) to remain in the education system until graduation by presenting documents issued in their countries of origin, in accordance with article 7 of Law #25.871.

Government of Argentina, 2006, translated by the authors.

81The Act also assigns responsibility to the state to ensure equality and free education.

82In Argentina, the public education system is free of charge at all levels (pre-elementary, primary, secondary, tertiary and university) to ensure universal access. School attendance by children from migrant households is high, reaching more than 96 per cent (IOM and CNCPS, 2019).

83The numbers of migrant children in primary schools, meanwhile, are low, in line with the low numbers of foreign children generally, who comprise only 7 per cent of the total number of migrants in Argentina. Current migration is dominated by the middle aged, who start their families in their country of destination and whose children are thus de facto considered Argentine (IOM and CNCPS, 2019).

84In the City of Buenos Aires, the proportion of foreign students at all levels is 8 per cent, being slightly higher for high schools (9 per cent) than for the primary level (6 per cent) (Buenos Aires City Statistics, 2019).

85With regard to university education, 3.6 per cent of all undergraduate students and 9.4 per cent of postgraduate students are foreign; 95 per cent of foreign university students come from the Americas and three-quarters of these study at state-run universities (Argentinian University Statistics, 20182019).

86The ‘Progresar Programme’, which grants scholarships to young people aged 18 to 24 at all levels of education, requires migrants to reside in the country for five years to qualify for such a scholarship (Government of Argentina, 2014).

87While migrants do have access to education services, they continue to face other challenges, such as stigmatisation and communication problems due to cultural and, in some cases, language differences.

88The inclusion of migrants in schools (primary and secondary) generates tension in an education system that was created to foster unification and that has historically deployed assimilationist practices. The school was conceived as an instrument for building a common identity and shaping a sense of nation and belonging to a heterogeneous group. Thus, the incorporation of new sociocultural diversities in the school system generates new inclusion challenges.

89In recent decades, as Novaro, Diez and Martínez (2017, 16, translated by the authors) point out,

The rhetoric of inclusion and interculturalism, the discourse of human rights and the imperative of respect for diversity have also challenged schools (primary and secondary). However, the changes have been relative, especially in terms of the need to review the invisibility and absence, or the presence, of “others” in a stereotyped and folklorised format.

90Those ‘others’ include Latin American migrants.

5.3 Access to the Social Protection System

91The social security system in Argentina consists of a number of programmes designed to protect the population and maintain its standard of living in the face of risks and contingencies such as sickness, disability, accidents at work and occupational diseases, as well as maternity, loss of a family member, old age, unemployment and family responsibilities. Benefits are administered, managed and supervised by the National Social Security Administration (ANSES) and include, inter alia, pensions and unemployment insurance (ANSES, 2021).

92The social security system consists of a contributory system to which a quasi-contributory system has been added through successive reforms. The former, which involves contributions made during periods of active work, requires at least 30 years of contributions if benefits are to be accessed. Thus, migrants who have access to these benefits have reached pensionable age and have resided in the country for many years. This is the state’s largest migrant-related expense, particularly benefiting older migrants from Europe (IOM and CNCPS, 2018).

93Argentina has wide, almost universal social security coverage; the system reaches 90 per cent of migrants. However, while European migrants enjoy the highest levels of coverage, in line with their longer residency status and their higher contributions during their working years, among older people from Latin American countries benefit rates are significantly lower (IOM and CNCPS, 2018).

94The Universal Pension for the Elderly (PUAM)—which consists of a benefit for people over 65 years of age who do not receive any other retirement or pension benefits—is less accessible to migrants as its requirements include being Argentine or having adopted Argentine citizenship after ten years of residence in the country (prior to application) or being a foreigner with a minimum residence period of 20 years (Government of Argentina, 2016).

95The barriers to older adult migrants’ access to this type of benefit are a concern, as these individuals are traversing a stage in their lives characterised by economic insecurity and during which a possible decrease in income from active work exists alongside an increase in costs, especially those related to healthcare.

96Migrants’ access to the social protection system and its various programmes dealing with direct money transfer is provided for by law, but in reality many of these programmes have other requirements, such as residency, a certain number of years spent in Argentina and/or available documentation. These requirements impede migrants from fully enjoying their social rights and from equality of treatment with nationals by restricting the access of foreigners with fewer years of residence or with irregular residence situations.

  • 5 The vital and mobile minimum wage is established by the National Council of Employment, Productivit (...)

97This is the case for the system of Universal Child Allowance (AUH). Created in 2009, AUH is a non-contributory benefit for children and teenagers under 18 years of age whose parents are unemployed or are informal workers, domestic workers, or self-employed and earn an income equivalent to the minimum wage.5 It consists of a monthly monetary benefit conditional on school attendance and compliance with health checks (Government of Argentina, 2009), and complements the family allowance received by formal workers with dependent children. AUH was implemented with the aim of universalising the protection of children and teenagers. One of the requirements for access to the benefit is to be a native Argentine or to have adopted Argentine citizenship, or to be a legal resident in the country for a period of at least three years (Government of Argentina, 2009).

98In 2011, the Social Protection Universal Pregnancy Allowance was created to cover women who are unemployed or have informal work during their pregnancy. If a pregnant woman is a foreigner, she is required to have an Argentine National ID Card and to have resided in the country for three years to qualify for this allowance (Government of Argentina, 2011).

99Non-contributory pensions consisting of economic transfers and health coverage have a long history in Argentina and include old-age pensions (Government of Argentina, 1948), disability pensions (created in 1970) and benefits for mothers of seven children (from 1989 on). These benefits are the most restrictive with regard to migrant access, and require between 15 and 40 years of residency.

5.4 National Public Social Expenditure and Its Impact on the Situation of Migrants

100The study conducted by IOM together with the CNCPS in 2018 under the title ‘Baseline Scenario for the Monitoring of Sustainable Development Goals through the National Public Social Expenditure Linked to Living Conditions of Migrants’ quantifies the public expenditures of the state that impact migrants (IOM and CNCPS, 2018, translated by the authors).

101According to the report, state expenditures that have an impact on the lives of migrants amounted to 5 per cent of national public social expenditures in 2015, reflecting the migrant population as a portion of the total population. This expenditure constitutes 0.7 per cent of GDP (IOM and CNCPS, 2018, 91).

  • 6 The Budget Office of the National Congress analyses the budget taking into account SDGs, indicators (...)

102Most of this public expenditure on migrants goes into retirement expenditures, which account for 70 per cent of the total figure. This benefits older migrants, and thus particularly those from Europe, and is part of the contributory layer. Other expenditures that affect the lives of foreigners include those on health (7%); family allowances (5%); education (4%); public works, housing and infrastructure (4%); non-contributory pensions (4%); employment and work (2%); and social promotion (1%). Centrally, it is with regard to SDG 1 (End poverty) and SDG 10 (Reduce inequality) that the greatest impact of this public spending is observed.6

103It is important to note that migrants are included in social programmes aimed at the entire population, and that there is no budgetary programme dedicated exclusively to the migrant population.

6. New Challenges

104Argentina faces major challenges related to overcoming structural deficits, reducing social inequality, and achieving productive economic development and the Sustainable Development Goals.

105These challenges were heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a differential impact depending on the conditions of each country affected. Argentina has experienced an economic and productivity crisis, with strong social consequences that have highlighted social problems, inequalities, and deficiencies in healthcare for and the social protection of the population, and the most vulnerable sections of the population have been hit harder.

106The pandemic has revealed this social reality, together with its concomitant social, economic and gender inequalities. It has also shed light on the importance of the role of the state as the guarantor of individual and social rights, and on the need to build more inclusive societies, which work to enhance not only health policies but also social policies aimed at the protection of homes and individuals, as well as at the preservation and generation of employment.

107The pandemic and the consequent response of border closures and preventive, compulsory social isolation have had an impact on the migrant population across three dimensions: (i) the restrictions on entering the national territory imposed on persons in border areas have caused family separations, obstacles to applying for international protection and, in some cases, a lack of food and accommodation; (ii) it has been relatively difficult to obtain residence status due to the temporary closure of some public administration offices, which has led to difficulties in obtaining national ID cards and the consequent inability to access social programmes; (iii) sources of income have been lost or reduced, particularly for self-employed migrants or migrants with informal jobs (UN, 2020).

108At the same time, the economic and productivity crisis generated by the pandemic will have an impact on new and deeper inequalities and vulnerabilities, leading to greater destitution, poverty, and unemployment, and worsened working conditions, all of which will entail new challenges.

109This situation led the Argentine government that took office in December 2019 to deploy a massive food plan as one of its first measures. In addition, the state launched Emergency Family Income (IFE) to guarantee a minimum income floor for informal workers and the self-employed in the lowest income categories. Access requirements include being a native Argentine or adopting Argentine nationality, and being a regular resident in the country for not less than two years as well as being between 18 and 65 years of age (Government of Argentina, 2020).

110Challenges, though, will only increase in the future. With regard to the migrant population, overcoming employment inequalities and creating better-paid jobs and formalised working conditions, as well as dealing with other deficits affecting the migrant population such as poverty and housing conditions, are issues that must be addressed if the full social inclusion of migrants in Argentina is to be achieved.

111In addition, the question of access criteria for income transfer programmes, including requirements related to documentation and years/conditions of residence in the country, should be on the agenda. The current set-up excludes certain migrants from the social protection provided by the state, in particular those who may well be among the most vulnerable given their recent arrival in the country and their consequent inability to build any kind of social safety net.

112We should also ponder whether it is necessary to implement social programmes especially focused on the migrant population, in view of the difficulties they face in achieving full inclusion into the labour market.

113In addition, the discrimination and sociocultural barriers facing migrants must be removed. This means continuing to work towards an intercultural approach that allows for the full enjoyment of social rights and equal access to social services guaranteed by law. An intercultural approach to the implementation of public policies must consider communication and programme management mechanisms that recognise various languages, cultural particularities and different ways of life, focusing not on assimilation but on respect for diversity. This requires training policy makers to exercise an empathic understanding of cultural diversity. As Mármora (2017, 10, translated by the authors) argues, ‘in the “intercultural” perspective, tolerance is replaced by “respect” between cultures and their mutual integration. This dynamic and open vision of cultures is based on a process of dialogue, negotiation and mutual learning’.

114Once the pandemic is over, the path forward will involve increasing efforts to achieve sustainable, inclusive, more equitable development and full enjoyment of social rights, for both natives and migrants, with a strong state that articulates these efforts to the business sector and civil society organisations that provide effective development responses. To this end, the Argentine government is proposing the setting up of an Economic and Social Council (Government of Argentina, 2021).

7. Conclusions

115Argentina is faced with the need to expand social protection and develop economic and social recovery policies that enable the participation of all stakeholders in leading the country on the path to sustainable development, within the framework of the 2030 Agenda. The outcome of the present crisis must be framed by a comprehensive and sustainable development perspective that aims to leave no one behind. The 2030 Agenda and its 17 SDGs should continue to be a guideline for post-pandemic social and economic reconstruction focused on economic growth, social inclusion and environmental sustainability.

116In this process, there is still a long way to go in terms of the full delivery of the rights set out in law to guarantee migrants full access to services, and in terms of overcoming the disconnect between legal requirements and the reality migrants face when seeking to access educational, healthcare and social services. Migrants’ access to the education system and the healthcare system is, in legal terms, guaranteed, but they may still face administrative obstacles, stigmatisation and prejudice that undermine their educational trajectories and their health. Income transfer policies, meanwhile, employ certain restrictions on access. All public policies have requirements linked to specific characteristics, such as sex, age, and poverty level. For the migrant population, most of these restrictions relate to years spent in the host country, even if no social programme excludes migrants per se. Integrate into the social protection system those still excluded, guarantee that migrants enjoy their rights fully and are treated equally, achieve migrants’ full integration into the labour market and combat the conditions that lead to poverty: these are the tasks and challenges inherent in the implementation of the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda in Argentina.

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1 Including Amartya Sen’s work on welfare economics criticism and human development theory, or criticism of capitalism or of neo-Marxism.

2 METADATA is a system of indicators that tracks goals, targets and indicators, and establishes baselines, as well as final and intermediate targets.

3 SDG Indicators, Metadata repository, (accessed on 20 October 2021).

4 ODS Argentina, (accessed on 20 October 2021).

5 The vital and mobile minimum wage is established by the National Council of Employment, Productivity and the Minimum, Vital and Mobile Wage, under the institutional remit of the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security. It is established through negotiation between the representatives of workers, employers, and the State National and the Federal Labor Council (provincial governments).

6 The Budget Office of the National Congress analyses the budget taking into account SDGs, indicators and prioritised targets in order to assess the effective impact on the proposed achievements. The structure of the national budget makes the work of segmenting by migrant population complex, but exercises are being developed to that end.

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List of illustrations

Title Figure 12.1 Proportions of migrants by origin (1869‒2010)
Credits Source: National censuses (INDEC, 2021).
File image/png, 17k
Title Figure 12.2 Total number of immigrants in Argentina and their proportion of the total population
Credits Source: National censuses (INDEC, 2021).
File image/png, 334k
Title Figure 12.3 Migrants by origin
Credits Source: EPH and INDEC, 2021 (data for 2018).
File image/png, 105k
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Cite this article

Electronic reference

Gabriela Agosto and Fabiana Rubinstein, Migration and the 2030 Agenda in ArgentinaInternational Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement [Online], 14 | 2022, Online since 25 April 2022, connection on 20 July 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the authors

Gabriela Agosto

Gabriela Agosto is a post-graduate professor at Universidad del Museo Social Argentino (UMSA), Universidad Nacional de San Martín and the National Technological University, Buenos Aires. A consultant in sustainable development issues, throughout her career she has held executive, advisory and consulting positions in the public sector. She holds a PhD in Sociology and Political Science from Complutense University of Madrid and graduated with a degree in Sociology from the University of Buenos Aires.

Fabiana Rubinstein

Fabiana Rubinstein holds a Master’s degree in Design and Management of Social Policies and Programs from Flasco. She has, since 1986, been a teacher and trainer at universities and national and international organisations. Directing integrated research teams on a variety of topics linked to her fields of interest, throughout her career she has held executive, advisory and consulting positions in the public sector.

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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