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Regional Responses to Venezuela’s Mass Population Displacement

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By August 2020, 5.18 million people had fled Venezuela due to its political, economic, and social crisis. Most of those who left since 2014 chose Latin American destinations, given the elevated economic and administrative costs of migrating to destinations in the global North: 1.76 million Venezuelan citizens lived in Colombia, 829,708 in Peru, 455,494 in Chile, 362,857 in Ecuador, and 264,617 in Brazil. Despite existing regional and national mechanisms for the reception and regularization of Venezuelan migrants, such as the Cartagena Declaration refugee definition, many host countries developed ad hoc policy responses. Despite initial general generosity across the region, increasing numbers and rising xenophobia led to a shift towards restrictive policy reactions and de facto border closures towards Venezuelans, even before COVID-19. Regarding Venezuela’s Andean neighbors, Ecuador and Peru have taken an especially stark restrictive shift, while Colombia has maintained relative openness. This generates surprise, given that Colombia hosts the largest number of Venezuelan migrants worldwide. In this article, we explain the policy drivers of each of these three receiving states, both in the context of domestic policy dynamics and international relations. We argue that an emphasis on domestic policy is associated with restrictive measures, while an emphasis on foreign policy under the right-leaning executive in Colombia has led to maintaining relative policy openness.

Policy responses pre-COVID

Between 2016 and 2018, Ecuador and Peru were relatively generous towards Venezuelans. On the one hand, Ecuador applied the category of South American citizenship, included in its Human Mobility Law (2017), to allow the entry and residence of people from member states of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), including Venezuela. However, the cost of the Unasur visa was set at US$250, an unattainable price for the majority of Venezuelan migrants and refugees, especially considering the difficult economic situation in which they found themselves. Peru, on the other hand, was the first country in the region to create a specific permit that regularized the immigration status of the Venezuelan people: the Temporary Permanence Permit (PTP), which authorized them to live and work in the country for one year.

Since mid-2018, however, both countries have gradually adopted similar restrictive measures. In Ecuador, the process of restricting the entry of Venezuelan migrants began with the introduction of a passport requirement through the Ministerial Agreement No. 244 of August 22, 2018. The Judiciary subsequently suspended this measure. In response, the government decided to require an apostilled certificate of criminal records. Likewise, it implemented a “humanitarian corridor”, which consisted of offering migrants transportation by bus from the north to the south of the country towards the border with Peru. Finally, through Presidential Decree No. 826 of July 25, 2019, a so-called humanitarian visa was introduced.

In Peru, the announcement of the passport requirement for the entry of Venezuelan immigrants occurred in August 2018. This measure was the subject of a lawsuit by the National Human Rights Coordinator and, although initially revoked, it became effective again in January 2019, in response to an appeal filed by the Ministry of Interior and the National Superintendence of Migration. Then, the application deadline for the PTP was shortened. According to Supreme Decree 007-2018-IN, applications were to be accepted only until December 31, 2018, and the deadline for entering the country was set for October 31 of the same year. In June 2019, the implementation of a humanitarian visa was announced. This visa, regulated according to Superintendence Resolution No. 000177-2019, entered into force on June 15 and requires a passport and an apostilled certificate of criminal records from Venezuela. ​

The humanitarian visas adopted by both countries create a barrier to the legal entry of the vast majority of Venezuelan migrants since it had become virtually impossible to obtain a passport and an apostilled certificate of criminal records due to the state collapse and the rampant corruption in Venezuela. Furthermore, the waiting time for an appointment at the Peruvian consulates in Venezuela ranged from a couple of months to more than two years. Therefore, the term “humanitarian” appears as only euphemistic, as, in reality, these visas have been conceived from a restrictive and securitist approach (Freier and Luzes, 2020). ​

In contrast to this, the Colombian government progressively developed a series of regularization instruments for Venezuelans. The first permit was the Border Mobility Card (Tarjeta de Movilidad Fronteriza, TMF), which dates back to February 2017. In December 2019, the TMF was reactivated again to allow border crossings between Venezuela and Colombia (Venezuela Migration Project, 2020a). Other permits that authorized migrants’ entry and stay into Colombian territory are the Entry and Permanence Permit (Permiso de Ingreso y Permanencia, PIP), the Special Permanence Permit (Permiso Especial de Permanencia, PEP), and the Temporal Transit Permit (Permiso de Tránsito Temporal, PTT).

Until December 2, 2018, applications were available for a special version of the PEP entitled PEP-RAMV, which targeted only those who had registered in the Administrative Register of Venezuelan Migrants (Registro........

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