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An Uneven Welcome: Latin American and Caribbean Responses to Venezuelan and Nicaraguan Migration

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Open Door for Venezuelan and Nicaraguan Migrants in Latin America & Caribbean Closes a Bit amid Scale of Flows, Strains on Public Services

WASHINGTON – Even as governments in Latin America and the Caribbean have taken generous and innovative steps to address forced displacement from Venezuela and more recently Nicaragua, the warm welcome has cooled in places amid the vast scale of the inflows, strains on public services and growing public concern.

About 3.9 million Venezuelans have moved elsewhere in Latin America or the Caribbean over the past few years, making this the second largest displacement crisis in the world after the Syrian one. Even as the Venezuelan exodus has quickened markedly since 2017, about 80,000 to 100,000 Nicaraguans have fled to Costa Rica amid rising domestic political repression.

A new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report, based on fieldwork and in-depth research on regional immigration and immigrant integration policies, maps the changing policy landscape in 11 countries. In An Uneven Welcome: Latin American and Caribbean Responses to Venezuelan and Nicaraguan Migration, MPI President Andrew Selee and Jessica Bolter, an associate policy analyst, examine how governments have generally tried to accommodate the recent arrivals. Most are providing basic education and emergency health care, as well as legal status for many via regularizations, new visa categories and expanded legal pathways.

“But as these flows continue—shaped both by the depth of the Venezuelan and Nicaraguan crises and by the porous nature of borders in the region—governments are beginning to erect barriers to entry and to struggle with the challenges of integrating large numbers of new arrivals into local communities,” the authors find.

The report accompanies the launch of 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 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.

“To respond to the extraordinary migration context in which Latin American and Caribbean countries find themselves, MPI has developed a clearinghouse for research, data and analysis that can be a resource for policymakers, civil society leaders, international organizations and other key stakeholders as they seek to craft migration and integration policies that can benefit newcomers and receiving communities alike,” Selee said.

The accompanying report, which focuses on Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guyana, Mexico, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay, yields several conclusions about the changing policy context, including:

  • The relatively low entry requirements most countries in the region have had, especially for Venezuelans, are becoming more stringent. Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Trinidad and Tobago have started requiring visas, which are difficult for most Venezuelans to obtain.
  • Countries in the region are prioritizing the grant of legal status via different means. Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and, to a much smaller degree, Trinidad and Tobago, have undertaken mass regularization campaigns for Venezuelans. Brazil has offered temporary residency to any Venezuelan who requests it, and Argentina and Uruguay have provided Venezuelans easy access to Mercosur residency visas, even though Venezuela has been suspended from the bloc. Others, such as Costa Rica, Chile and now Colombia, have experimented with providing legal status based on employment.
  • Public education systems are generally open to newcomers but facing widespread capacity challenges. Most countries in the region, except Trinidad and Tobago, make elementary and secondary education available to recent migrants, no matter their legal status. However, registration requirements and school overcrowding present barriers for some seeking to enroll their children.
  • Recent migrants from Nicaragua and Venezuela have high labor force participation rates, but most are in the informal economy. In most host countries, these migrants are more likely than the native born to have a professional or technical education, but they face high barriers to getting their educational credentials recognized. As a result, many are unable to secure work that matches their skills.

“Overall, Latin American and Caribbean countries have shown openness and even creativity in accommodating large-scale forced migration flows in a short period of time,” the authors conclude. Yet, they add, “New strategies are needed to help host countries successfully meet these challenges. These strategies will largely have to come from host countries themselves, given the diversity of ways migration pressures are affecting education, health care and other systems.”

Still, there is a critical supporting role for the international community to play as well, including by providing funding to expand services and support the design and implementation of well-thought-out strategies for social integration, Selee and Bolter conclude.