On the 8th of February 2021, the Colombian government granted legal status to around 1 million Venezuelan migrants living in its territories. Unregistered Venezuelan migrants will be provided with legal resident permits, “temporary protected status” for 10 years, and registered migrants will skip the formalities of renewing their permits. Moreover, migrants who have entered Colombia before the end of January are eligible for the permits.  

The provision of resident permits will provide Venezuelans access to a myriad of benefits including access to the formal labor market, social services (healthcare and education), and the opportunity to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Moreover, the resident permits will pave the way for permanent residency. 

Before this decision, Venezuelan migrants were in limbo, unable to tap formally into the labor market, and forced to take jobs in the informal sector to make ends meet while facing discrimination, xenophobia, exploitation, and abuse. 

President Ivan Duque’s decision comes in line with former President Trump’s executive order to stop the deportation of 145,000 Venezuelans due to the uncertain and dangerous climate in Venezuela. President Duque has also signaled to other Latin American countries to follow in his footsteps in granting access to better opportunities for Venezuelan migrants. 

This decision marks a progressive move in favor of the humanitarian cause.  

Colombia hosts the largest number of Venezuelan refugees, an estimated total of around 1.8 million. Besides Colombia, Venezuelans have migrated to Ecuador, Peru, Panama, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, USA, Mexico, and Costa Rica. 

Background on the Venezuelan Crisis 

Since 2014, Venezuela has been caught in a series of struggles between the incumbent President Nicolas Maduro and the opposition party leaving Venezuela in a tumultuous state of political and economic turmoil. The problems began when former President Hugo Chavez made promises to reduce the level of inequality through the adoption of socialist policies, which ended up backfiring. Policies such as price controls, which were enacted to make goods accessible, resulted in companies halting their production because they no longer profit from the business, which then led to a shortage of necessities. In addition to poorly thought out policies, investment in infrastructure was lacking. The issues intensified when Chavez’s protégé, President Nicolas Maduro, took power. To further add fuel to the fire, the once-dependent-on-oil state was slapped with US sanctions on its oil sector in 2015. 

The turmoil resulted in hyperinflation, violence, shortages in food, medicine, electricity, and fuel, as well as a dearth of necessities. Along with the unfolding of an economic crisis, the Venezuelan government has become ever more repressive and has proactively taken steps to shut down any opposition. Therefore, many Venezuelans were compelled to leave their home to find better prospects for themselves and their families. 

COVID-19 further exacerbated the impact of the Venezuelan crisis due to the closure of borders. In light of their desperation to escape, Venezuelans took risks in crossing the borders via any means of transportation available, from foot to sea.

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