Regional Mobility Trends: The Americas

Migration and mobility in Latin America in 2018 were almost exclusively dominated by the emigration of thousands of Venezuelans to other countries in the region, with the addition of around 50,000 Nicaraguans applying for asylum in Costa Rica. According to estimates offered by the International Organization for Migration in November 2018, the number of refugees and migrants from Venezuela worldwide has already reached three million people.

80% of this number are now residing in Latin America and the Caribbean, with Colombia (around one million), Peru (approximately half a million), Ecuador (around 220,000), and Argentina and Chile (over 100,000) having received the largest number of Venezuelans.

The legal responses of Latin American and Caribbean countries to the arrival of Venezuelans can generally be characterized as open, although with some caveats. While most countries in the region (with exceptions such as Trinidad and Tobago) are trying to offer residence permits — so as to avoid situations of undocumented residence, which could lead to possible exploitation — typically such permits are only applicable to certain categories of Venezuelans (for example, those arriving after a certain date); are adopted by executive decrees, with little intervention by parliaments; and merely grant temporary residence, thus generating legal uncertainty for the future.

The prospects for 2019 point in the direction of the ongoing emigration of Venezuelans, as well as Nicaraguans, to countries in the region — in the case of Nicaraguans, almost exclusively to Costa Rica, due to the latter’s proximity and stability and the historical and migration links between both countries. This opens up several scenarios, for which we can anticipate a range of possible trends. First, while many Venezuelans have obtained residence permits in countries across the region, we can already see some countries closing their doors. This is most obvious in the case of Peru, where President Vizcarra announced at the end of October that the country will not continue to offer residence permits. Since migration flows will continue, this move might lead to numerous individuals ending up with undocumented status, increasing the risk of situations of exploitation.

Domestic courts will emerge as important actors in the attempt to maintain some of the advances in migration liberalization that have been made since the turn of the century.

Second, the region will see the emergence of domestic courts as important actors in the attempt to maintain some of the advances in migration liberalization — notably regarding the free movement of regional migrants — that have been made since the turn of the century. Courts have already played important roles in 2018 in places like Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Argentina, and Chile.

Third, the arrival of Jair Bolsonaro to the Presidency of Brazil in early 2019 might produce changes in the migration policy of Latin America’s most populous country. While the number of foreigners residing in Brazil is very low (constituting less than 1% of the total population), any restrictive signal by such a country is likely to have negative consequences for debates in other neighboring states.

Finally, Latin American’s second most populous country, Mexico, will also see the arrival of a new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who holds a completely different political ideology from that of Bolsonaro. Mexico will face numerous challenges that will affect its already poor track record when it comes to the protection of the rights of migrants in its territory, including those fleeing violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

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