By Joanna Button
What’s happening? The number of Chinese migrants traveling through South America to seek asylum in the U.S. has skyrocketed this year. Many are desperate to escape China’s oppressive system and hope to find freedom and opportunity in the United States. There have been some outlying concerns about migrants with ties to the Communist Party entering the country.
The numbers: The number of Chinese asylum seekers has steadily risen since President Xi Jinping took power in 2013. According to Panama migration data, 5,860 Chinese migrants crossed from South to Central America from January 2022 to March 2023—compared to only 376 Chinese migrants in total between 2010 and 2021. Twice as many Chinese nationals were apprehended along the southern U.S. border in the first quarter of 2023 than in the entire year of 2022.
The process: Many Chinese immigrants with little education travel through South America despite the high risks and smuggling costs because they can’t secure U.S. work visas. Upon their arrest in the U.S., they avoid being sent back by claiming to fear persecution by the Chinese government. As these claims are hard to disprove, the U.S. has allegedly been releasing most of the asylum seekers and giving them a court date to come back for their immigration hearing.
Why now? Xi recently began an unprecedented third term. Chinese migrants say his restrictive policies and lockdowns have limited economic opportunities in the country. Others say they were being pursued by Chinese authorities and fear the country’s growing political repression. Migration surged after China began lifting strict pandemic measures in December, allowing citizens to leave the country again.