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Should the Caribbean Replicate Latin America’s Migration Policies?

As Venezuela’s political and economic crisis is ongoing, its citizens will continue to flee the country. In fact, in 2018, 5,000 Venezuelans left the country daily, accounting for nearly nine percent of Venezuela’s total population. A previous Charged Affairs article rightfully recommends U.S. assistance, but perhaps hemispheric solidarity is the practical response. The current U.S. administration continuously threatens to close its borders and is unlikely to welcome many migrants since this will decrease the likelihood of civilian rebellion in Venezuela. Therefore, the Caribbean, as a regional partner, should follow Latin America’s lead in providing civil liberties and stability for Venezuelan migrants. However, migrants fleeing to the Caribbean face significant problems such as HIV/AIDS, drug and human trafficking, and xenophobia. Caribbean countries will need to adopt solutions similar to those of Latin America to ensure a receptive response to migrants, provide opportunities for healthcare, and promote self-sufficiency that benefits the host countries and incoming Venezuelans.

Image courtesy of Marcelo Camargo – Agência Brasil © 2018

Although Venezuelan migrants to the Caribbean are undersized relative to Latin America, their impact is significant due to the Caribbean’s smaller population. For example, the Venezuelan migrant population in Curacao (26,000) and Aruba (16,000) accounts for 15 and 10 percent of each country’s population, respectively. By the end of 2019, the region’s total Venezuelan migrant population should exceed 100,000 migrants, excluding Cuba, which supports Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Therefore, both the host countries and migrants will face greater problems than those in Latin America.

Venezuelan migrants entering Caribbean countries face numerous obstacles, most of which do not have solutions. Once the migrants enter, they become susceptible to human trafficking, especially those with little identification, while many have no means of defending themselves. Additionally, some migrants suffer from the effects of HIV/AIDS and are in desperate need of treatment. With little or no access to healthcare and basic social services, the migrants continue to suffer from these and other diseases. Exacerbating these problems, working migrants face exploitation and abuse. Having close to no legal status, migrants are taken advantage of by Caribbean businesses, resulting in lower pay in comparison to Caribbean citizens. This also increases job loss for Caribbean citizens, which leads to a probable increase in societal tensions toward migrants. These problems are similar to those that migrants face in Latin America. However, Latin America is addressing these issues far better.

Latin American countries have provided short-term and effective measures to ensure the safety and integration of Venezuelan migrants. Colombia, Peru, and Brazil are frequent destinations and each provides a temporary plan for migrants. Columbia’s Special Stay Permit, for example,  includes work authorization for up to two years and provides healthcare beyond emergency service treatment. Peru’s Temporary Stay Permit  allows legal migrants to open bank savings accounts for up to one year while Brazil’s two-year temporary residence permit allows Venezuelans to apply for permanent residency three months before their temporary status expires.

These plans, however, have limitations. Schools and health services do not have the human capital to meet the demands of incoming migrants, which can lead to border restrictions. Once border restrictions are established, many Venezuelans are denied entry and are forced to look elsewhere, often the Caribbean. Although these plans have limitations, host countries assume that, in time, migrants will contribute to the economy, providing benefits for both parties and leading to self-sufficiency. As tensions rise and migrants face devastating problems, the Caribbean will need to keep this long-term goal in mind while pushing for similar initiatives.

Replicating Latin American policies is necessary for the Caribbean to help incoming Venezuelan migrants. To start, the Caribbean should offer migrants a legal status as well as a framework for documentation. It can do this by recognizing passports and visas from those able to provide them. The Caribbean must also recognize Venezuelans’ human capital. Through this human capital, Venezuelans will provide technical skills, ensure self-sufficiency, and further mutual benefits. By implementing documentation and work permit measures, Caribbean governments will allow migrants to legitimately enter the workforce, leading to less exploitation from local businesses. This process is beneficial for both migrants and the host countries, as it provides an opportunity for Venezuelans to legally compete for jobs without stoking fear that they will undercut Caribbean citizens. This can, therefore, diminish animosity and xenophobia toward migrants.

Additionally, the Caribbean should go a step further and work with Spanish-speaking professionals to help integrate Venezuelans into Caribbean culture and society. With cultural integration and financial stability, the Caribbean should also provide access to healthcare, especially when migrants suffer from HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Caribbean countries have been unable to do this in part because of limited funding and an overload on their social services. Currently, the Caribbean and Latin America are addressing this crisis independently, meaning there is a need for hemispheric solidarity, which can better streamline the delivery and funding of social services. Regional organizations, such as the Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community, should facilitate regional solidarity, making these policies a shared priority. To protect migrants and prevent a humanitarian crisis in the region, the Caribbean needs to promote initiatives that are like Latin America’s current and mutually beneficial migrant policies.


Wazim Mowla

Wazim Mowla is a graduate student at Florida International University. His research interests include Guyanese public and foreign policy, U.S.-Latin American relations, addressing immigration crises, and identity politics. Feel free to connect with Wazim on Twitter @WMowla or via LinkedIn.
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