Almost 40% of the 3.5 million Colombians living abroad are illegal immigrants, according to figures from the Colombian government, reports RCN Radio.
Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzon revealed the information at a forum on migration at the Hotel Tequendama in Bogota.
The official said that the government would try to improve the situation for citizens living abroad through agreements with their destination countries.
“I think we can move forward with the international community, through conventions designed to protect not only Colombians, but also citizens of other countries like Colombia, have had to emigrate for economic reasons, social reasons, and because of violence,” said Garzon.
Garzon’s figures clash with those of a study released by Ibernet Media & Consultants in January, which found that as of December 2009, 5.5 million Colombians were living abroad.
Of these, 2 million had migrated since 2002. Between 1.5 and 2 million live in the U.S., according to the study.
By some estimates, the biggest destination for emigrants is Venezuela, which claims to have more than 4 million Colombian residents. The U.N. estimates that 200,000 of these are refugees fleeing the country’s armed conflict, while the rest are seeking better economic opportunities.
Ecuador is also a top destination country for Colombian economic migrants, and for those displaced by violence. UNHCR estimates that there are 90,000 Colombian refugees in the country.
Colombian Central Bank figures released in January showed a “brain drain” from the country, with 37% of Colombian immigrants in the U.S. having a university degree. Of the country’s residents, no more than 14% have a degree.