Refugees International spoke with over half a dozen Venezuelans in Argentina both in-person and virtually during July of 2022 about their experiences migrating.
Argentina stands out as a welcoming place for Venezuelans. Argentina’s laws recognize migration as a human right and guarantee migrants’ access to basic social services, work, and justice. And Argentina is among the most receptive countries towards refugees in the world.
This was not always the case. Former President Mauricio Macri’s executive order 70/2017 established new impediments for entry into the country, reduced procedural guarantees for migrants, and created new restrictions on gaining Argentine nationality. These policies led to a 3,150 percent increase in deportations over two years and led to mothers being separated from their children. Although the Argentine government offered some exceptions for Venezuelans, such as extending the deadlines for documents verifying lack of criminal records in Venezuela, they were still subjected to arbitrary detentions and even deported.
Thankfully, on March 4, 2021, current President Alberto Fernandez overturned 70/2017 and reestablished previous protections guaranteed by Argentine law. In doing so, he restored Argentina’s commitment to international agreements and shifted its migratory focus from one of criminalization to one that reinstates respect for the rights of migrants.
Local and international nongovernmental organizations have widely praised the move. Amnesty International “celebrate[s] the revocation of 70/2017, as it was incompatible with the international protection of human rights.” El Centro Integral de la Mujer Marcelina Meneses, a local nonprofit catering to the needs of migrant women interviewed by Refugees International, affirmed that “this was a good move that has aligned Argentina’s migration system with human rights.”
These changes have positive implications for the more than 2 million Peruvian, Bolivian, Paraguayan, and Senegalese migrants in Argentina and will overwhelmingly benefit the country’s roughly 170,300 Venezuelans—one of the fastest growing migrant populations in Argentina.
Compared to other Latin American states, Argentina is relatively easy for Venezuelans to access. Most of the Venezuelans RI interviewed said they entered by applying for a temporary residence visa, which is relatively affordable, requires identification documents, certification of a lack of criminal record in Argentina and Venezuela, a stamp showcasing legal entry into Argentina, and proof of residence. Once approved, the temporary residency automatically grants the right to work and eligibility for government programs. It is valid for two years and then can be renewed for permanent status. According to a 2019 survey, more than 89 percent of Venezuelan migrants in Argentina have legal status or are citizens.
While these numbers reflect well on the Argentine system, many of the documents required to gain status in Argentina are difficult to get, especially for poor Venezuelans. Getting an appointment for a Venezuelan passport can take months and can cost up to $2,600. Nonetheless, access to status confers free access to medical care and higher education. Gabriel Mandrioli, a Venezuelan migrant and current medical student at the University of Buenos Aires, told Refugees International that, “Argentina has a really generous system that has given me free access to quality-class education,” something that “Venezuela wasn’t and couldn’t give me—I actually have a future here.”
Mandrioli’s experience might not be the norm because he still receives financial assistance from family back home, but other Venezuelan migrants interviewed have echoed Mandrioli’s characterization of Argentina’s generosity toward migrants.
Ximena Rodriguez, a Venezuelan mother of two with a university education, felt this generosity when she arrived in Argentina in 2016. “When my husband and I first got here, we didn’t have anything—no job prospects or resources,” she said. “So, we put all of our savings into making food for a festival and Argentinians lent us their appliances and supported us throughout [the process].” At one point, to attend festivals far from home, Rodriguez said she would sleep in a tent despite cold temperatures outside. “We needed to feed our kids,” she said. Now, her food has been so successful that she has opened a Venezuelan restaurant. She said she feels “hugged” by Argentina.
Of course, the migrant population in Argentina still faces challenges, such as getting jobs that match their training and skills. Rodriguez, who worked as a graphic designer in Venezuela, experienced a professional pivot common among Venezuelan migrants in Argentina. This survey found that 61 percent of Venezuelans in Argentina have jobs for which they are overqualified. And, this other survey found that 46.5 percent of employed Venezuelan migrants in Argentina reported that their primary jobs do not use their skills, education, or professional experiences.
Manuel Aldaz, President of Fundación Ciudadanos del Mundo, explained why this is one of the biggest challenges Venezuelan migrants in Argentina face. “The process of seeking to validate one’s [professional] license in Argentina can be quite difficult and expensive.”
Maria Alejandra Carlitos, a migrant from Venezuela who has been in Argentina for three years, also had to change her career path when she arrived in Argentina. When she found that nobody wanted to hire her as an interior designer, she decided to train as a cook and is now working six days a week at a restaurant in Buenos Aires. “It’s been difficult, but now I really enjoy cooking,” she said. “I had to change gears, but it ended up working out.”
These professional difficulties notwithstanding, Venezuelans have successfully integrated in Argentina. All the Venezuelan migrants interviewed by Refugees International discussed tangible and intangible ways their lives have improved.
Erick Khaile Zent was a Latin America Programs intern with Refugees International during the Summer of 2022.
Cover Photo Caption: Mariela, a Venezuelan living in Argentina, proudly displays the supplies she received to boost her Venezuelan cuisine venture. UNHCR supports the procurement of inputs for various ventures co-managed by migrants and refugees. © UNHCR/Juan Rodoni