Venezuelan Migration Is Not Leading to Increased Crime in Latin American Host Countries Despite Perceptions to Contrary, MPI-Brookings Analysis Finds
WASHINGTON — As communities in Latin America and the Caribbean adjust to the arrival of more than 4.2 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees over the past several years, there has been a perception by some that the newcomers are driving up crime rates. These concerns are largely unfounded, however, according to a new Migration Policy Institute-Brookings Institution analysis of data from the three countries that are host to the largest number of Venezuelans: Colombia, Peru and Chile.
In one of the first studies to directly evaluate the relationship between migration and crime in the region, Brookings and MPI researchers found that Venezuelan migrants commit crimes at substantially lower levels than their proportion of the populations in Peru and Chile. While the evidence is more mixed in Colombia, Venezuelans commit violent crimes at a lower rate than their proportion in the population, and the slightly greater involvement in non-violent crimes could be the result of high migrant unemployment and the existence of smuggling networks along the border areas where most of these crimes were reported, the researchers suggest.
The issue brief, Venezuelan Migration, Crime and Misperceptions: A Review of Data from Colombia, Peru and Chile, draws on publicly available figures and government data requested by the researchers to analyze 2019 indictment and incarceration rates for Venezuelan migrants relative to their share of the overall population.
In Chile, just 0.7 percent of all those indicted for crimes in 2019 were Venezuelan nationals, even though Venezuelans made up 2.4 percent of the population. Similarly, in Peru, where the MPI-Brookings analysis uses imprisonment data as a proxy for crime rates because of data limitations, 1.3 percent of those in prison were foreign born—of any nationality—as of 2019, whereas Venezuelan nationals make up 2.9 percent of the overall population.
In Colombia, Venezuelan nationals comprised 2.3 percent of arrests for violent crimes in 2019, while representing 3.2 percent of the population. For all arrests, 5.4 percent were of Venezuelans, perhaps reflective of the fact that the regions where Venezuelans were responsible for higher shares of crimes were primarily along the border, as well as areas where they faced higher rates of unemployment.
“This finding is consistent with the literature that suggests granting migrants and refugees formal labor market access can reduce the incidence of crime among this population,” authors Dany Bahar, Meagan Dooley and Andrew Selee write.
Their issue brief helps fill a research gap on the relationship between migration and crime in Latin America. Few studies have been conducted in the region examining a possible linkage, in part because of the recency of the flows and the fact that immigration at this scale is a relatively new phenomenon for most countries in Latin America.
Even as opinion polls show Colombians and Peruvians regularly cite crime as one of the reasons they are most uncomfortable with migration from Venezuela, and in early 2020 the Peruvian Interior Ministry announced the creation of a special security unit dedicated to crimes committed by migrants, the authors called the concerns “misplaced.”
“The data in this study provide strong evidence that the presence of Venezuelan immigrants is not leading to increased crime in the region—certainly not in the three countries that have received the largest number of Venezuelan migrants and refugees,” they write. “Sudden mass migration certainly presents challenges to receiving societies, but, at least in this case, a major crime wave is not one of them.”
Read the issue brief here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/venezuelan-immigration-crime-colombia-peru-chile.
It is available in Spanish here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/immigracion-venezolana-crimen-colombia-peru-chile.
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For a recent profile of Venezuelan refugees and migrants in 11 countries in South America and the Caribbean, including their demographics, education levels, employment before and after migration, remittance sending, health conditions and mobility patterns, check out our recent fact sheet with the International Organization for Migration.
And for more, check out MPI’s Latin America & Caribbean Migration Portal, the first comprehensive online resource for data, research and analysis on regional immigration policy and migration trends. The portal, offered in English and Spanish, features a selection of authoritative reports by international organizations, governments, researchers, civil society and others; key immigration statistics; laws and regulations relating to migration policy; and original commentary by leading experts.