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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.
Many talented Uruguayans have succeeded on the international stage: