The latest number puts the Venezuelan migrant and refugee population at 3.4 million people around the world, with the expectation that this will increase to 5.9 million by the end of 2019. We know that 80% of migrants and refugees are settling in South American countries, with Colombia and Peru, at 1.2 million and 700,000 respectively, as those receiving the highest numbers. However, a growing number of Venezuelans are also going to the United States.
What is their situation?
According to Pew Research Center, in 2013 there were around 248,000 Venezuelans in the U.S., a number that has increased with the growing crisis and the 70,000 people that requested asylum in the past four years: Venezuela tops the list of countries with the highest number of asylum-seeking applications in the United States. At the same time, Venezuelan nationals also account for the highest overstay rate among Hispanic non-immigrants admitted to the U.S. There are many others who have received Permanent Residency, as the NGO Visión Democrática documents, due to work-related reasons, or for family reunification purposes.
Venezuelan nationals also account for the highest overstay rate among Hispanic non-immigrants admitted to the U.S.
South Florida has one of the biggest communities of expats. Miami and the surrounding areas are well-known settlements, but there are also concentrations of Venezuelans in cities like Houston, Boston, New York, Washington, D.C. and some towns in California.
While we have the unfortunate caminantes phenomenon in South America, in North America we’re hearing more and more about Venezuelans who may have a passport but, without a visa to enter the U.S., they are now showing up in the U.S.-Mexico border requesting asylum. Many of them are being held at immigration detention facilities pending a final approval, a final removal order or a last-minute reprieve if their asylum is denied.
How many are there? Who are they? Are there unaccompanied minors like we had from the Northern Triangle countries a while back? These are all questions that will probably be answered soon.
For the visa overstayers, the Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a temporary protection measure that grants legal stay to nationals who have forcibly left their country because of a particular, and unusual situation (natural disasters, protracted unrest, conflict) might be a solution. It can be approved via legislature or by executive decree, and it has been used in the United States to protect Salvadorans seeking protection from their civil war in the 1980s, Hondurans and Nicaraguans when they were victims of Hurricane Mitch, and Haitians forcibly displaced after the 2010 earthquake.
Most South American countries have already adopted temporary protection measures, as documented by the OAS-MPI policy brief. The U.S. could also do the same.
Critics of the TPS say these measures don’t protect recipients in the long run, and I agree.
Critics of the TPS say these measures don’t protect recipients in the long run, and I agree (what do we do when the two or three year duration of the measure expires?) so this goes for the U.S., and all countries providing temporary protection: we need to think in medium-to-long-term procedures to address these migrant and refugee flows, and aim at integrating them and take advantage of the contributions they can make.
Back in December, one Republican and three Democratic senators introduced the Venezuela Temporary Protected Status and Asylum Assistance Act of 2018. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was joined by senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to support a bipartisan legislation seeking to grant Temporary Protected Status for eligible Venezuelans fleeing the dire conditions of their home country, providing support for migration systems in countries surrounding Venezuela (a similar bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in January 2019 and there’s been talk about how President Trump might consider an executive order on the same). In March 2019, senators Durbin (D-Ill) and Rubio (R-Fl) led a bipartisan letter asking him to consider Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status. Twenty-four other members of Congress signed.
Although not a natural disaster, what is happening in Venezuela merits a serious consideration about the approval of a TPS for their nationals. Venezuelan migrants and refugees in the U.S. are highly educated, between 25-35 years old, and hungry to work, produce, and contribute to this country. The U.S. should take advantage of that.
No more time to waste.
* The views are personal and do not represent the position of the OAS.