Explainer: Why Venezuela’s refugee exodus to the U.S. has been accelerating

Oct 18 (Reuters) – US and Mexican authorities recently announced a new policy that would deport Venezuelans entering the US land border back to Mexico but would allow up to 24,000 people out of the country, a humanitarian one to apply for entry into the United States by air.

As a result of the new policy, thousands of Venezuelans believed to be en route to the United States are now stranded between the two countries during a year that has seen Venezuelans arriving in record numbers at the US border.

WHY WERE THE NEW MEASURES INTRODUCED?

The measures are in part a response to political pressure on US President Joe Biden to curb record numbers of illegal border crossings at the Mexico-US border. Venezuelans were one of the largest groups of migrants involved in such crossings, in part because Washington last year granted temporary protected status to those on US soil. The deportation of Venezuelans is also more complicated than that of migrants of other nationalities because the two countries severed diplomatic ties in 2019, making it difficult to organize deportation flights.

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According to US government data, more than 150,000 Venezuelans were arrested at the US-Mexico border between October 2021 and August 2022, compared to nearly 48,000 in fiscal 2021. In September, over 33,000 Venezuelans were found at the US-Mexico border – more than the number of individual cross-border commuters from Mexico and more than immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras combined, according to US government data.

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WHAT IS NOW HAPPENING TO VENEZUELANES TRANSPORTING TO THE UNITED STATES?

Those in transit may attempt to reach the United States, although they are almost certain they will be sent back to Mexico. So far, the Mexican authorities have given many of these people a maximum of two weeks to leave the country. It’s unclear where the Venezuelans waiting in Mexico will end up, as the Mexican asylum system is often overwhelmed.

Some might return to Venezuela, while others might settle in various Latin American countries where, in some cases, Venezuelan migrants have faced discrimination, limited employment opportunities, and limitations on their migration status.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), half of Venezuela’s refugee and migrant population in Latin America and the Caribbean cannot afford three meals a day and have no access to housing, forcing many to resort to sex work or begging.

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WHO CAN APPLY FOR THE NEW US PROGRAM?

Venezuelans who meet US requirements can apply to the recently announced US program. Requirements include a US resident supporter and possession of a valid passport. The cost of a passport in Venezuela is $200, nearly 10 times the country’s minimum wage.

Only 1% of the 1,591 migrants who left Venezuela between June and August held passports, according to the Observatory of Social Investigations, a rights group.

WHAT STARTED THE VENEZUELAN EXODUS?

Under President Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013, the country with the world’s largest oil reserves survived corruption and inflation.

Then, in 2014, Venezuela’s economy collapsed as global oil prices fell and living conditions continued to deteriorate as tight price controls led to widespread shortages. Products gradually disappeared from the shelves while the black markets thrived in goods from cooking oil to cornmeal.

In 2018, Venezuelan inflation exceeded one million percent. Drugs for conditions ranging from headaches to cancer were unavailable.

WHY VENEZUELANS STILL MIGRATE?

Despite some improvements after a 2019 opening up of the economy that included informal dollarization, most Venezuelans still struggle to afford basic goods and services. Efforts by Chávez’s successor Nicolas Maduro’s government to ease economic restrictions have eased shortages and boosted consumption in the upper income bracket, but the vast majority of the population earns wages well below the cost of living.

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The monthly minimum wage in the OPEC-member nation is about $15, while the price of a shopping cart that meets the monthly needs of a family of five was about $370 at the end of September, according to the non-governmental Venezuelan Financial Observatory.

Even in the relatively prosperous Caracas’ commercial and service sector, employees earn an average of only about $130 a month. In contrast, in the public sector, which employs around 2.2 million people, the average monthly salary is around US$20 to US$30.

Economists say at least 30% of the population has not benefited from the new economic measures.

Remittances to Venezuelans from relatives in the United States or elsewhere help, but are not enough for most. According to Caracas-based consulting firm Anova, just a quarter of Venezuelan families receive remittances, which average just $70 a month.

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Reporting by Vivian Sequera in Caracas and Sarah Kinosian in Mexico City Editing by Matthew Lewis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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