Thomson Reuters Foundation: What Nations Can Learn from Colombia’s Integration of Venezuelans

This op-ed was originally published in Thomson Reuters Foundation News.

On March 1, Colombian President Ivan Duque issued a decree that would give temporary protective legal status to most of the 1.8 million forcibly displaced Venezuelans in the country. 

The new permit—known as a Temporary Protected Statute for Venezuelan Migrants (EPTV)—will have myriad benefits for Venezuelans and Colombians alike.

With the new EPTV, Colombia is showing that, if they can legalize the presence of its displaced population, so can other refugee and migrant hosting countries. In fact, shortly after Colombia’s decree, the United States joined ranks with Colombia by granting Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans in the United States.

Colombia has long been a leader in the region for welcoming Venezuelans, but this move is particularly monumental during the pandemic.

While nativism and xenophobia towards refugees and other displaced people are taking root globally, Colombia has taken a major step in the opposite direction by providing critical support to Venezuelans and acknowledging their contributions to the country.

But Colombia cannot do it alone, donors need to step up their support. Furthermore, countries like Peru and Ecuador, who face similar resource constraints as Colombia and host large numbers of Venezuelans, can draw from the Colombian example to craft their own regularization policies. 

The new EPTV is notable for its accessibility. It will be available to most Venezuelans, regardless of their status in the country, that lived in Colombia by January 31, 2021 and for those entering Colombia in the two years following the implementation of the permit. Displaced Venezuelans can apply to obtain the permit with even with their expired passports or their Venezuelan identifications.

In other countries where access to legal status is a challenge for displaced people, such a measure could provide refugees and forced migrants with the protections they are due.

The new permit will grant legal status to Venezuelans for up to ten years and will open the door for longer-term residency in the country. This is a major development from the previous permits in Colombia that were viable for only 2-years with a possibility for renewal.  

The long-term nature of the EPTV will offer stability and security to Venezuelans by granting them access to important services, obtain loans, work formally, and contribute more fully to their host communities.

Like Colombia, other nations could benefit from acknowledging the long-term nature of displacement in their country and implement measures that allow refugees and migrants to integrate properly in the society and economy.

The EPTV grants Venezuelan’s work authorization which allows them to obtain formal jobs and will also reduce the risk of exploitation and abuse at work.

Providing a regular status and access to work will ultimately help Colombians and Venezuelans alike by allowing Venezuelans to join the Colombian labor market and contribute to the Colombian economy. As we found in a recent study with Center for Global Development, the economic inclusion of Venezuelans could yield up to $1 billion dollars in Colombia’s annual GDP. These economic gains are particularly relevant as Colombia recovers economically from the pandemic.

Just like Colombia, other countries can benefit from the social and economic benefits of hosting refugees, especially by taking measures to regularize them and integrate them into the economy. 

Colombia’s new policy shows that integrating refugees and migrants is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do. However, it is critical that Colombia has the support it needs from the international community to take these bold steps.

The Venezuelan displacement crisis has been severely under-funded, and as of January 2021, only 50.3% of the funding requirements were met. The United States should increase support to cover costs of the rollout of the EPTV and mobilize European countries to do the same. The upcoming donor summit in Canada could be the perfect time for donor countries to step up these commitments.

Refugee and migrant hosting countries should look to Colombia as an example that inclusion of refugees is not only possible during these challenging circumstances, but essential to COVID management and recovery. With access to regular status, displaced people and host country nationals can rebuild and move forward together.

PHOTO CAPTION: Two young Venezuelans cross the Rumichaca Bridge on the border between Colombia and Ecuador in Tulcán on March 4, 2020.. As a precautionary measure against the spread of the new coronavirus, the Ecuadorian Ministry of Health is conducting health checks at the border with Colombia. Photo by Juan Diego Montenegro/picture alliance via Getty Images.