Venezuela Diaspora: Changing Demographics, Remittances, and Return Migration Patterns
December 6, 2022
Silvina Acosta is a Venezuelan journalist, living in Argentina, who has worked for numerous media outlets, non-governmental organizations, and multilateral organizations in Venezuela, the United States, and Central America. This article is part of a bi-monthly blog she is writing for CMS – “Postings from the Venezuelan Diaspora”– that reports on the situation of Venezuelan migrants, refugees, and expatriates throughout the world. CMS features her work on its website and in its weekly Migration Update.
As time goes on, the average age of Venezuelan migrants is increasing. At the beginning of the massive exodus in 2015, people between 15 and 29 years old migrated, but now, the predominant age group of migrants is between 30 and 49 years old. Men are the ones leaving the country at higher rates, and migration has increased from rural areas or areas less urbanized than the big cities. The migration of Venezuelans who have completed high school, primary education or less has also increased.
These statistics come from the 2022 National Survey of Living Conditions (Encovi by its Spanish acronym), conducted by the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (UCAB) in Caracas, Venezuela. On November 10, UCAB presented the findings from the Encovi 2022 survey. A total of 2,300 households in Venezuela were interviewed. Data was collected between July and August 2022. The study also includes a chapter on international migration.
The survey determined that in the last migratory flows, grandchildren (9 percent), siblings (9 percent), and other relatives (15 percent) have increased. However, the bulk of the new migrants continues to be children of the household head (54 percent) who initially settled outside Venezuela.
Anitza Freitez, the ENCOVI Coordinator, explained that the main reason for emigration continues to be finding work (75 percent) outside the country, although migration for family reunification reasons is on the rise. She clarified that the survey did not include questions about the destination or host countries of the Venezuelan relatives living abroad.
“The strong migratory flow that occurred after 2015 was made up of very young people, who are already starting family formation processes or promoting the regrouping of their nuclear family in the countries where they have managed to settle,” Freitez said.
Freitez likes to call it “the process of reassembling Venezuelan families” in the destination countries. She has ruled out a massive return, but “a non-definite return pattern is likely to result in a circularity of movements or unstable returns.”
She also affirmed to Venezuelan online media El Pitazo that, “it is likely that a set of the more than 7 million Venezuelans who have left the country since 2015, in many cases forced, are no longer part of the future of their own country… We will hardly recover the lost population.”
Freitez, who is also the lead researcher of the Observatorio Venezolano de Migración– Venezuelan Migration Observatory, said that UCAB is conducting a new survey and research about the regularization and integration processes of Venezuelan migrants in host countries in Latin America. The findings will be presented next December.
Settling through Regular Pathways Abroad
Other findings reveal that two out of three migrants have a regular status because they have acquired the citizenship of another country (16 percent), have a permanent residence permit (22 percent), or have a temporary permit (27 percent). About 12 percent have irregular status due to lack of or expired documents, and in 17 percent of cases, the family’s status is pending. Several countries in the region, such as Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic, have already announced or initiated regularization processes for Venezuelan citizens.
Daniela* (25) and Mario* (26) are very optimistic about the regularization process in Ecuador that began last September. Although they must wait until February 2023 to apply for a visa, they are certain that they will no longer have an irregular status and will be able to stabilize easily in the city of Guayaquil.
“We are witnessing the regularization process being carried out consistently and without delays, at least for Venezuelan migrants with valid passports or Andean letters who entered Ecuador legally. I read that 17,000 Venezuelans have already received their electronic visas,” Daniela explained.
Daniela and Mario entered Ecuador through irregular pathways in July 2020 during the pandemic, after being quarantined in Peru for six months prior to this journey. They initially left Argentina after having lived there for two years, to return to Guayaquil, their first host city.
Ecuador is deciding whether or not to regularize all Venezuelan migrants, regardless of their migration status. “We have been told that it is the same application process as for migrants who entered through regular migration posts. They only check criminal records more carefully,” Daniela said.
It is estimated that 508,000 Venezuelans live in Ecuador, and most of them have an irregular migration status. The regularization process for Venezuelan citizens in Ecuador began on September 1, 2022, and will end on August 15, 2023. Those who choose to be part of this process must obtain a humanitarian visa valid for two years and an Ecuadorian identity card.
Remittances on the Decline
According to the 2022 Encovi survey, there has been a significant increase in the number of migrants who reduced the amount and frequency of their remittances and of those who stopped sending them. The number of people who send money to their households of origin was reduced to 49 percent, as opposed to 59 percent in 2021.
In Buenos Aires, Pedro* (32) has a currency exchange office that can wire remittances to Venezuela. Since he opened the agency in 2018, he has attended to around 50 Venezuelans daily and wired an equivalent of approximately 1,500 USD (or $30 per person). At that time, migrants usually sent money twice to their relatives.
During and after the pandemic, the situation changed due to more virtual platforms, such as Binance, allowing for money transfers without intermediaries. “Although we have not stopped sending money, our customer base is down 30 percent. Currently, we could attend between 15 and 20 people, and receive between 600 USD and 800 USD per day,” Pedro said.
He also explains that remittances have dropped for a number of reasons, such as the fact that many of his clients have brought their whole family to Argentina; the inflationary economic situation in the southern nation; and the shortage of bolivars in Venezuela affecting transactions. “We receive Argentine pesos and send the equivalent in bolivars to bank accounts of relatives’ clients. Although Venezuela is dollarized, we transfer bolivars because the banks cannot buy dollars.”
According to the Encovi study, 57 percent of these remittances are sent once or twice a month, contributing to increased consumption in recipient households.
Return Migration Prospectives
In the UCAB study, Freitez urged the national government “to depoliticize the migratory crisis, to stop stigmatizing the people who left the country in the crisis, and to provide the protection that the laws guarantee, starting with the right to identity.”
The Venezuelan government makes migration invisible or demonizes it. It does not provide or publish official statistics on migratory flows. Therefore, the size and characteristics of the Venezuelan population that has left the country and any possible return flows are unknown.
Few official reports from the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry related only to repatriation statistics. On November 10, it was reported that 30,103 migrants were repatriated through the government’s Plan Vuelta a la Patria program since its launch in 2018. Venezuelan migrants have returned from 25 nations, mainly from South America, through 172 flights and one maritime transfer.
According to the Encovi survey, the proportion of returnees is at most 6 percent. UCAB researchers do not predict a massive return process to Venezuela due to the absence of conditions to receive the millions of Venezuelans who settled in other countries.
Since its inception in 2014, Encovi has become a source of timely and valuable information for researchers, public policymakers, legislators, political parties, unions, and other Venezuelan civil society organizations. However, UCAB researchers highlight that more significant efforts are needed to measure and characterize the Venezuelan population in their destination countries.
*Names have been changed to protect the safety of the interviewee and their family.
December 6, 2022