Quito, 9 March 2023 – Ricardo Gutierrez and his family had little idea what the future held when they left their home in the Venezuelan city of Barinas amid food and medicine shortages four years ago.
“It was hard to experience leaving our country to improve our lives and then find ourselves sleeping on the ground and starting from scratch abroad,” he says, recalling their early days in Ecuador.
Now, the 37-year-old bank accountant’s dreams have come true as he has been granted a temporary residence visa in Ecuador, under the country’s extraordinary regularization for Venezuelans. This will allow him to have a regular employment contract, including medical insurance, at the driving school where he works.
“I am so happy. This visa will provide emotional and economic stability to my wife and two daughters here in Ecuador,” Ricardo says, overwhelmed by emotion.
He also hopes that regularization will ease regular access to the medication he requires, as, without proper documentation, he has been unable to receive treatment for his cancer.
With nearly half a million Venezuelan nationals, Ecuador hosts the third largest Venezuelan migrant population worldwide, after Colombia and Peru. Yet, most of them remain undocumented, preventing them from building a brighter future in the country. Many use the Andean nation as a transit country towards other South American countries, such as Peru and Chile.
Legal status changes everything
The country’s year-long regularization process is key to building productive lives for Venezuelan migrants, allowing access to the job market and social security system, and easing their access to rights and basic services such as health care and education.
Venezuelans must first complete the online and biometric migratory registry with the Ministry of Interior. After obtaining the migratory certificate, they can register via an online platform managed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, apply for the temporary residence visa for two years and access an Ecuadorian identity card.
Since June 2022, more than 104,000 people have finished their migratory registry, out of which 55,000 Venezuelans have applied for a visa. By February 2023, nearly 41,000 have received their temporary residence visa. Thousands of others continue to go through one of the stages of the plan.
This is the second time Ecuador has moved to regularize Venezuelan migrants and refugees. During a previous extraordinary regularization exercise, held in 2019 and 2020, nearly 51,000 Venezuelans had their status regularized.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is supporting the Government of Ecuador in this initiative, offering expertise, capacity, presence and resources to keep strengthening the process and ensure that no one is left behind.
“Regularization is key to facilitating their socio-economic integration and provides a doorway to full inclusion,” said Jose Ivan Davalos, Chief of Mission of IOM Ecuador. “It also brings benefits not only to migrants themselves but also to the host communities where they seek safety.”
Several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are promoting the inclusion of Venezuelans who are seeking to remain in their host communities. Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and others are facilitating documentation and seeking solutions to regularize and offer protection to the Venezuelan population, via different instruments in their national legislation and by promoting a multi-country response through regional forums such as the Quito Process.
A turn for the better
Just a few years ago, Carlos Rivero could not have imagined leaving Venezuela and working some 2,000 kilometers away. “Watching my family eating only cassava three times a day was the trigger to our departure,” he says, in the little house where he lives with his wife and two children, in the Ecuadorian capital, Quito.
Like many of the 7.1 million people who left Venezuela in recent years, the lawyer had high hopes in his suitcase in 2018; but without documents, he could not find steady work. “We could barely survive on what I earned selling vegetables, unloading trucks and as a bricklayer. Each day was getting harder,” says Carlos.
But now, Carlos is among the nearly 39,000 Venezuelans granted regular status. With his new status, the lawyer’s family will be able to increase its socioeconomic and financial integration, as well as better education for the children and health care services. He is now working in a restaurant, and he received seed capital and business advice from IOM to boost his handmade recycled bags business.
The new situation has brought hope back into the family’s lives. “To be regular, that has changed everything. I will have a legal contract and access to all common services. Everything is different,” Carlos says, surrounded by a sewing machine, burlap scattered textiles, colored sewing threads, and a mountain of handmade bags.
This story was written by Gema Cortes, IOM Media and Communications Unit, Office of the Special Envoy for the Regional Response to the Venezuela Situation.