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New MPI-OAS Brief Maps Creative Policies Latin American Governments Have Taken to Address Status of Venezuelan Arrivals, Urges Longer-Term Vision
Press Release
Wednesday, January 30, 2019

New MPI-OAS Brief Maps Creative Policies Latin American Governments Have Taken to Address Status of Venezuelan Arrivals, Urges Longer-Term Vision

WASHINGTON — The Latin American countries that are hosting the vast majority of the 3 million-plus Venezuelans who have fled a rapidly collapsing economy, severe food and medical shortages, and political strife have responded to date with creative and pragmatic policies, a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) – Organization of American States (OAS) Department of Social Inclusion policy brief finds.

The policy response is chronicled in Creativity amid Crisis: Legal Pathways for Venezuelan Migrants in Latin America, which draws from on-the-ground interviews with policymakers and other stakeholders in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, alongside analysis of the response elsewhere in South and Central America and Mexico. Collectively, Latin America is hosting about 80 percent of the Venezuelan migrants and refugees. The United States and Spain are other top destinations.

Dealing with one of the fastest and largest migrant and refugee flows in the world, governments in Latin America have created temporary programs to regularize the status of Venezuelans already in their country, tried to maintain flexibility as to types of ID that can be accepted for admission and used existing visa categories to facilitate regularization. Though few have immigration systems built to manage migration on this scale, most have tried to maintain an open door and allow legal stays for the Venezuelan arrivals, facilitating their integration into local economies and communities.

The provision of legal pathways and formal access to the labor market are particularly important, the authors note, making the newcomers less likely to displace local workers since employers thus have fewer incentives to hire them as a source of labor cheaper than the native workforce.

Yet most of the arrivals lack legal status and some of the overall policy responses have significant shortcomings in terms of their coverage, permanence or access to public services, the brief finds. And with the growing recognition that these newcomers are more than short-term guests, and that the Venezuelan exodus could swell by perhaps 2 million this year, the authors make clear that policymakers’ focus must now turn urgently beyond the immediate response to the humanitarian crisis and towards longer-term planning.

“Going forward, governments in the region will need to ensure that Venezuelan migrants and refugees are able to maintain regular legal status and that new arrivals can integrate successfully into local societies,” said MPI President Andrew Selee, who co-authored the brief. “While the policy response has been uncommonly warm to date, drawing from Latin America’s general openness to migration, it is clear that the number of arrivals and short- and medium-term costs imposed on the receiving societies are significant and that the policy response could become less welcoming.”

Already, some governments have taken steps to limit future Venezuelan arrivals and raise entry fees, some receiving communities have expressed frustration at the strain put on local service providers and resources, and there have been tensions and even skirmishes between native and newcomer populations.

The researchers make the case that to avoid widespread backlash and to facilitate the smooth integration of Venezuelans, policymakers must tackle questions ranging from the provision of permanent status to access to public services and the formal labor market. Done well, this could be an opportunity to update government processes and strengthen public services in ways that benefit both newcomers and long-term residents. Already, Colombia and Peru, the two top destinations for Venezuelans, are taking the crisis as an opportunity to modernize and digitize outdated systems, and to begin to adapt laws to be flexible enough to address current and future needs.

“There is much that countries in Europe, North America and Asia could learn from how Latin American governments have tried to ensure that the influx of Venezuelan migrants across the region may benefit receiving societies,” Selee said.

Read the brief here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/legal-pathways-venezuelan-migrants-latin-america.

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels.