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Ecuador Suspends Visa-Free Policy for Chinese Nationals, Citing “Unusual Increase” in Irregular Immigration

Most Chinese migrants attempting to reach the U.S.-Mexico border chose Ecuador as their primary entry point. Ecuador was the only mainland country in the Western Hemisphere allowing Chinese nationals to enter visa-free.

April Xu

Jun 18, 2024

A close-up view of the fence along the U.S. border

A close-up view of the fence along the U.S. border (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry announced Tuesday that it has decided to temporarily suspend their agreement with China which allowed Chinese nationals to stay up to 90 days without a visa, citing a “worrying increase in migratory flows from China.”

In a statement posted on Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry X (formerly known as Twitter) account, the ministry said the suspension is temporary but did not specify the effective date or the duration of the policy. According to The Washington Post, the temporary policy will start on July 1.

The statement noted that approximately 50% of Chinese nationals who entered Ecuador did not leave the country through regular routes within the 90-day period required by law. The ministry indicated that these Chinese migrants either overstayed in the country or used Ecuador as a transit point to reach other destinations.

News about Ecuador’s suspension of the visa waiver for Chinese nationals first started circulating on social media on Monday. The next day, during a regular press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Jian Lin responded to the news, stating that the Chinese government firmly opposes any form of illegal immigration. However, Lin did not confirm the start date of Ecuador’s suspension of the visa waiver.

At the press conference, Lin emphasized that China has been rigorously cracking down on criminals involved in illegal immigration activities and is cooperating with relevant countries to combat cross-border illegal immigration.

Ecuador has seen an increase in travelers from China ever since the China-Ecuador visa-free agreement came into effect in August 2016. After China eased its strict quarantine policies, the number of Chinese visitors to Ecuador also increased drastically. Reports citing data from the Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador, show that between January and March 2023, 9,441 Chinese tourists visited Ecuador, compared to 6,860 during the same period in 2019, marking an increase of nearly 40%.

Meanwhile, Chinese nationals are the fastest-growing group of migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border. Official statistics reveal that 37,000 Chinese nationals were arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2023, a tenfold increase compared to the previous year. Almost all Chinese migrants who attempt to reach the U.S.-Mexico border chose Ecuador, the only mainland country in the Western Hemisphere that allowed Chinese nationals to enter visa-free, as the primary entry point, according to a recently released analysis paper by the non-partisan think tank Niskanen Center.

The report highlighted that Chinese nationals entered Ecuador 48,381 times in 2023 but only left 24,240 times, leaving nearly half (24,141) of individuals unaccounted for — the highest number by far for any nationality. Additionally, a record 23,859 Chinese nationals traveled to Ecuador at least once last year, representing a nearly 235% increase from the previous five-year average.

April Xu

April Xu is an award-winning bilingual journalist with over 9 years of experience covering the Chinese community in New York City.




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