Emigration from Uruguay began tentatively about a century ago, but experienced a significant increase since the 1960s. Successive economic crises (notably in 1982 and 2002), plus the small size of the country's economy and population, were decisive factors that pushed thousands of Uruguayans out of their country of birth; economic migrants traveled primarily to other Spanish-speaking countries with bigger economies. As Uruguay has a relatively well-developed educational system and free access to the University of the Republic, many Uruguayan professional graduates and scholars found their country too small to achieve their own goals, which resulted in a brain drain. The 12-year-long military dictatorship that ruled from 1973 to 1985 also forced many Uruguayans to go into exile due to ideological differences, in the context of the Cold War.
The main receptors of Uruguayan emigration are: Argentina, Brazil, the United States, Canada, Australia; in Europe: Spain (over 40,000 as of 2011), Italy, France, and Portugal. During the military dictatorship, some exiled Uruguayans migrated to Mexico, Venezuela, Sweden, Germany, etc. Further, a significant number of Uruguayan Jews (almost 10,000) emigrated to Israel between 1950 and 2000 as part of the Aliyah.
Recent estimates put the emigration figures at over 500,000.
At the beginning of the 21st century, Departamento 20 ("Twentieth Department", in allusion to the 19 Departments into which the Uruguayan territory is divided) was created, an instance of coordination and articulation for Uruguayans living abroad.
The Consultative Councils (Spanish: Consejos Consultivos) are representative organizations of Uruguayans living abroad whose central role is linking them with the country in several forms; they were established by Law No. 18250 of January 2008. They can be found in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Paraguay, Spain, Sweden, USA, and Venezuela.
As of November 2013, the Uruguayan government plans to implement a project to link qualified Uruguayan émigrés with technological sectors in Uruguay, especially in biotechnology, information technology and renewable energies.
Notable Uruguayan emigrants
Many talented Uruguayans have succeeded on the international stage:
- Jorge Drexler (born 1964 in Montevideo), musician, 2004 Best Song Academy Award for Al otro lado del río
- Fernando Espuelas (born 1967 in Montevideo), American entrepreneur
- Elio García-Austt (Montevideo, 1919 - 2005), physician and neuroscientist, active in Chile and Spain
- Natalia Oreiro (born 1977 in Montevideo), film and telenovela actress and singer, active in Argentina
- Carlos Ott (born 1946 in Montevideo), architect established in Canada, author of the Opéra Bastille, Paris (1989)
- Ángel Rama (Montevideo, 1926 – Madrid, 1983), writer, academic, literary critic, known for his theorization of the concept of transculturation
- Emir Rodríguez Monegal (Melo, 1921 – New Haven, 1985), was a scholar, literary critic, and professor of Latin American contemporary literature at Yale University
- Rafael Viñoly (born 1944 in Montevideo), architect established in the United States, author of the Tokyo International Forum (1996)
- José Holebas (born 1984 in Aschaffenburg), Greek international footballer of Hispanic-Latino and Afro-Uruguayan descent through his mother.
- "Uruguayans, the unknown migrants" (PDF). CIPIE. Retrieved 27 October 2013. (in Spanish)
- Magalí Werba; Enrique Horowitz. "Emigration of Uruguayan Jews" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-11-01. (in Spanish)
- "Where did Uruguayans go?". El Observador. 13 August 2017. (in Spanish)
- "Departamento 20". Retrieved 28 October 2013. (in Spanish)
- "Law 18250 about Uruguayans abroad". Parliament of Uruguay. 6 January 2008. Archived from the original on 2013-11-05. (in Spanish)
- "List of Consultative Councils of Uruguayans abroad". Retrieved 1 November 2013. (in Spanish)
- "Qualified Uruguayan diaspora to be registered by the government". La República. 18 November 2013. (in Spanish)