Professor and YouTuber John Gross aka “The Chile Gringo,” recently announced that he and his family would be leaving Chile for Ecuador because his wife Elise’s permanent residency was rejected multiple times. Their story highlights larger issues related to Chile’s immigration policy and how difficult it is for many to obtain permanent residency. Various reforms in the works might bring changes to the situation.
John Gross, also known as “The Chile Gringo” on YouTube, is famous for his videos in which he explores different parts of Chile, samples traditional foods, and meets with locals to share the diversity of Chilean culture. He posted a video a few days ago titled, “We’ve been kicked out of Chile,” in which he explained how the immigration system’s shortcomings is forcing him and his family to leave the country.
In an interview with Chile Today, Gross explained that he and his wife, Elise Gross (Elise) arrived in Chile in 2015, at which point they had to apply for a one-year temporary resident visa, a fairly simple process. After about 10 months, they then had to ask for permanent residency. Gross’ application was accepted, but Elise’s was rejected – and this even though the two were married and shared the same last name. The authorities never gave any official reason for the rejection.
In order to stay, Elise therefore had to reapply for another one-year visa and pay an additional CLP$400,000. After this additional year, they tried again to apply for her permanent residency. This time, they were informed that the protocol had changed and that Elise had to first return to the United States to do a background check. After that, the Gross family did not receive any more information on the status of the application for several months, despite Elise’s regular trips to the local government office to inquire about updates.
Approximately a year later, in 2018, they were finally informed that Elise’s application had been denied, but six months earlier. They then hired a lawyer, who advised them to sue the Maule region. This, they were told, was their last chance to resolve the problem, as, by law, an application for permanent residency can only be reconsidered once.
At this point, everything was being handled online, so it was easier for the Gross family to keep track of the documents they submitted. Nevertheless, the process continued to be overly complicated and seemingly arbitrary. “She would go to somebody in the government office and ask why her application was denied and they would say ‘oh, it’s because of this document that was missing.’ But, she would pull it up right off her phone and show it to them and then they would reply, ‘no it’s actually this one right here,’ and she would pull that one up and so on,” Gross recalled.
After the Gross family finally cleared the document submission hurdles, the application stalled in various courts. Their lawyer provided Elise with a document enabling her to come back to Chile should she have to go abroad. However, the document was set to expire at the beginning of May and she had a business trip to the United States planned for April, which was relatively risky. It was then that the family decided they could no longer maintain the indefinite wait.
Gross said the never-ending uncertainty got to be too much. “We talked to several people about it and no one could do anything for us, which was really frustrating …. It was about not having the peace of mind and wondering, ‘What happens if something goes wrong with your parents back home in the States?’ You can’t go, because you won’t be able to come back.”
A three-year odyssey ends the day an article is published
Elise’s application was finally accepted a few weeks later, on the day BioBio Chile released an article about the family’s struggle to acquire permanent residency. But it was too little too late.
By that point, the family had decided to leave for Ecuador, where their company also had offices, and where they had already started the relocation paperwork. The irony of the situation was not lost on Gross; “It just shows that it’s totally political. If you know the right people, you’ll get in. Unfortunately, that’s the way things work,” he said. Although everything seems to be going well for the move to Ecuador, what happened has left a lasting impression on them. “It was sad, and kind of a sad way to go, where it’s not really your choice, but something totally out of your hands.”
Common frustrations on the path to permanent residency
The Chilean immigration system, often known for its bureaucratic inefficiency, has proven to be dissuasive to many foreigners seeking residency in Chile. “After that video I received so many messages from people saying that that was exactly what had happened to them and that they had to move back to where they were from,” Gross said. He believes that, due to the mass influx of immigrants from other Latin American and Caribbean countries such as Haiti and Venezuela in recent years, the system is overwhelmed and the authorities have not scaled up their response to match the demand.
The Piñera administration implemented an Immigration Law in late 2020 that aimed to deal more efficiently with the situation, but, according to an article by the Migration Policy Institute, it actually made life harder for most foreign nationals entering or currently living in Chile. “The new visa requirements, including compulsory consular visas, prohibitions on adjustments from a tourist permit to a temporary residence, and the increasing difficulty in moving from temporary to permanent status once in the country, are likely to contribute to an increase in the number of people living in irregular status,” the article explains.
— Cooperativa (@Cooperativa) April 25, 2021
Applying for permanent residency is also a considerable financial investment, as there are fees every step of the way. Immigrants first have to pay a specific amount – which is dependent on their nationality – for a temporary residence visa. Then, in order to receive permanent residency, according to an article by the Department of Foreign Relations and Migration, another fee is required. If the application is denied, there are additional fees to pay, something the Gross family found out only afterwards. When suing the state, they were informed by their lawyer that they would also owe about CLP$1,500,000 in paperwork fees and, if Elise were to win the case, another CLP$1,500,000.
Gross is convinced that a reform of the entire system is necessary. “I don’t know how I can change that with an article, but I think it starts with the president of Chile. And I feel like there’s now a new person in charge that cares about immigration again. I think the hard part was that [with] Piñera there were so many other things going on while he was president that he didn’t have the time to care about it and it just didn’t happen. So maybe with a new person in place, something will happen.”
On Feb. 12, 2022, the government published a decree approving the regulations of Chile’s new immigration law. The primary modifications establish a new entity responsible for immigration matters, new immigration status categories, and additional rights and protections for foreign nationals relocating to Chile.
One of the new key principles is the informed migratory procedure, which implies that the state must provide foreign nationals with “complete, timely, and effective information regarding their rights and duties, requirements and procedures for their admission,” while also ensuring that all foreign nationals are guaranteed equality in the exercise of their rights and due protection against discrimination. Furthermore, the government now grants temporary residence visas for periods up to two years.
However, this law has yet to be implemented by the Interior Ministry. The way in which these modifications will be put into practice in real time also remains to be seen.
Will there be a return? “Never say never”
When asked if they would ever consider coming back to Chile, Gross said that they would definitely be visiting their close friends who still live in Chile but that moving back was off the table for now, given what they had been through. He did however concede, “You never know. I thought that I would never leave Chile and here I am now, so I’ve learned now to never say never.” He also said that he expects things to improve under President Gabriel Boric. “My channel is all about the beauty of Chile, but there are also some things that really need to be talked about. I have high hopes for the future, I definitely do, so we’ll see what happens.”
Stephanie Iancu just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and she is aiming to go on and earn a postgraduate degree in Journalism. Her main areas of interest are politics, women’s rights, human rights and culture. She is currently taking a gap year and staying in New York while interning at Chile Today.