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Ecuador suspends visa-free entry for Chinese nationals amid "irregular migratory flows"

Chinese migrants come to U.S. southern border
Growing number of Chinese migrants crossing into U.S. at southern border | 60 Minutes 13:15

The above video was first published on Feb. 4, 2024. 

Ecuador is suspending a visa waiver agreement with China. Some Chinese nationals have taken advantage of that agreement by flying from Ecuador to Tijuana, Mexico, then illegally crossing into the U.S. at the southern border.

The South American country cited "a worrying increase in migratory flows" in Tuesday's announcement, noting that in recent months, around half of Chinese nationals coming into Ecuador didn't leave the country through regular routes or within the 90-day period allowed by law.

The move comes amid an increase in Chinese nationals at the U.S.-Mexico border. 

More than 24,000 Chinese nationals were encountered at the U.S. Southwest border so far this year, the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security said on April 18, with almost all of them apprehended while illegally crossing the border. The committee noted that such encounters had increased by more than 8,000% compared with March 2021. In April, which is the most recently available data, there were 3,324 encounters with Chinese nationals at the southern border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Last year, Customs and Border Protection reported 37,000 Chinese citizens were apprehended crossing illegally from Mexico into the U.S. Some of the migrants previously told 60 Minutes that they made the journey so that they could escape China's increasingly repressive political climate and sluggish economy.

In recent years, it's grown increasingly difficult for Chinese nationals to obtain visas to visit, work, or study in the U.S., 60 Minutes reported in February. Just 160,000 temporary visas were granted to Chinese nationals in 2022 compared with 2.2 million in 2016.

60 Minutes has reached out to U.S. Customs and Border Protection about how Ecuador's announcement may affect migration at the southern border.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lin Jian said Tuesday the mutual visa exemption between China and Ecuador, which took effect in August 2016, promoted cross-border travel and cooperation. 

Officials in Ecuador said the mutual visa exemption was only being temporarily suspended.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility reiterates its commitment so that people who visit the country can do so with adequate security guarantees, preventing them from being victims of human trafficking or migrant smuggling, as well as ensuring adequate national immigration control and precautions for the normal operation of air transport companies," Ecuador's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility said in a statement. 

Lin also addressed smuggling during his briefing Tuesday, saying China's government opposes all forms of human smuggling.

"In recent years, Chinese law enforcement departments have made tremendous efforts to fight crimes that involve obstructing national frontier and border administration, and remained tough on all kinds of human smuggling groups and individuals engaged in illegal immigration," said Lin. "Their effort has produced good results. At the same time, Chinese law enforcement departments are working with relevant countries to jointly tackle human smuggling activities, repatriate illegal immigrants and maintain a good order in cross-border travel."

Ecuador's announcement comes just weeks after President Biden authorized U.S. immigration officials to deport large numbers of migrants without processing their asylum claims.

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