Pinera government says Chile immigrant numbers double estimate

Conservative billionaire Sebastian Pinera took office on March 12 for a second term after serving as president of Chile 2010-2014

President Sebastian Pinera's new conservative government in Chile believes the number of foreigners living in the copper-rich South American country is likely over a million, more than double previous estimates. Lacking official figures, Chile had previously estimated the number of foreigners at around 600,000, equivalent to 2.4 percent of the population -- well below the rates of developed countries. However, interior ministry official Rodrigo Ubilla told a congressional committee that "a reasonable estimate is that we have more than one million foreigners in Chile," media reports said Wednesday. Some 300,000 of them would be living in the country illegally, the committee heard. Most new arrivals are believed to be from troubled countries like Venezuela and Haiti. The total number of immigrants who arrived in Chile in recent years remains unknown, pending the results of a census carried out in 2016. The immigration department said it had granted more than 267,000 visas were granted last year, an increase of 53 percent on 2016. Pinera, who took power on March 11, announced plans to amend his own immigration law -- introduced during his previous 2010-2014 term -- and scrap an initiative presented by the socialist government of ex-president Michelle Bachelet.