Chinese migration to the United States increases

Many choose to fly to Turkey, and then Ecuador. They opt for this South American country since it is one of the few that does not require a visa

The southern border of the United States continues to be crowded. Men, women and children from all over the world arrive in Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, Matamoros and other border points with the hope of crossing into the País del Norte.

Although the majority of migrants continue to be Latin Americans, the authorities are surprised by the arrival of a considerable number of citizens of the People’s Republic of China.

According to government statistics, more than 24,000 Chinese citizens were detained crossing into the United States from Mexico in the last year only. A figure that exceeds the sum of all the last ten years combined.

The route

The Chinese migrants’ journey, which can last weeks or months, reveals a meticulously planned route. Many choose to fly to Turkey, where they take a plane that takes them to Ecuador. They choose this South American country since it is one of the few that does not require a visa.

From Quito, they join other migrants to cross the dangerous Darien Gap. A region of jungle, mountains and rivers that separates Panama from Colombia and that for a long time was considered impenetrable.

But after Darién comes another 4,000 miles passing through several Central American countries and Mexico before reaching the US border. A journey known in Chinese as ‘zouxian’, or “walking the line”.

The Internet is full of information about the trip. A simple search of platforms like YouTube and Google produce detailed videos and explanations: the routes to take, what to avoid, what it costs. They even give practical advice on what to pack and what not to take. And there are also suggestions on where to find local guides, how to survive in the jungle and about the bribery of authorities in different countries. The migrant also has translation apps that facilitate the journey for those who do not speak Spanish or English.

The statistics

Statistics confirm the increase in migrants from China. Between January and September, Panamanian authorities recorded the crossing through the Darién of 15,567 citizens of the Asian country. By comparison, in 2022, only 2,005 crossed the jungle, and between 2010 and 2021, only 376.

The magnitude of Chinese migration has led to this group now being the fourth largest to cross through the Darien region.

These numbers are confirmed on the southern U.S. border where, according to the Border Patrol (CBP), 22,187 Chinese citizens who crossed the border between January and September were detained. Almost 13 times more than in the same period in 2022. Arrests peaked in September, at 4,010. An increase of 70% compared to August. The vast majority of those arrested were single adults.

Through San Diego

A high percentage of these Chinese migrants enter the United States through the San Diego area. In September, 98% of Chinese arrests on the southern border occurred in that area.

Once at the border, Chinese migrants typically surrender to authorities and request asylum. However, this process involves waiting approximately six months to obtain the permit that will allow them to work legally.

Asylum seekers of Chinese origin have a relatively high success rate in immigration courts. According to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, between 2001 and 2021, approximately 67% of Chinese applicants had their asylum requests approved.

Of course, some have their request rejected and their deportation is ordered. Most of the time this cannot be implemented since China traditionally ignores them and refuses to admit them back. A problematic situation for migrants who are left in legal limbo, and also for the U.S. authorities who cannot send them back.


The causal explanation for the growing emigration from China is complex and multifactorial, but it is significant that it began to grow with the tightening of Xi Jinping’s regime.

Although the pandemic and the very strict COVID-19 control policies in China temporarily reduced the exodus, the migratory flow regained strength, driven by an economy that faces challenges with growth rates much lower than in years ago and the worrying increase in unemployment.

A meme that reflects this situation became popular on the Internet. It is known as “runxue”, which means planning an escape. The term emerged as a humorous way to circumvent censorship, using a Chinese character whose pronunciation sounds like the English word “run.”

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This article was supported in whole, or in part, by funds provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library and the Latino Media Collaborative.


  • Martín Ocampo

    Escritor y periodista de Paysandú, Uruguay, quien actualmente reside en Nueva York, EE.UU., en donde ha trabajado en diversos medios. Su corazón es charrúa y su pluma es latina.

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