Crisis in Venezuela – Possible Responses to Protect Those Seeking Safety
The political situation in Venezuela has created unique challenges for citizens of that country, including in the area of immigration. According to a report issued by the United Nations, factors like limited supplies of food, water, and medicine, as well as constant persecution for expressing political opinions, has led to over four million Venezuelans fleeing the country since 2018. Recently, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services’ Asylum Division reported Venezuela as being the nation with the highest number of filed asylum applications.
This surge in applications is undoubtedly due to the fact that the United States symbolizes the hope of freedom and well-being for many Venezuelans fleeing their country, but while the U.S. government legally recognizes the new interim government of Juan Guaidó, the reality is that the government of Nicolas Maduro exercises de facto power. This situation therefore calls for a slightly different evaluation of Venezuelans’ asylum applications, which should take into consideration, for credibility determinations, the human rights violations reported by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Venezuela is a country under crisis, and for Venezuelan immigrants in the United States, going back to their home country is not an option. In addition to its diplomatic support of the transitional government, the U.S. government could initiate several humanitarian immigration measures:
- At a minimum, approve Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans in the United States;
- Because Venezuelans are unable to renew their passports, the U.S. government supports the measure taken by the transitional government to grant five additional years of validity to expired passports. U.S. immigration officials should be better informed and trained regarding the passport validity issue, so they do not deny applications and petitions on the basis of expired passports;
- Create a unique approach for asylum applications filed by Venezuelans, giving them priority and taking into consideration the fact that although the transitional Venezuelan government is currently recognized by most countries in the international community, the conditions of the country worsen every day as a result of the de facto government;
- Discuss with other countries, with which the United States has E visa treaties, the possibility of facilitating the legal process for eligible Venezuelans to obtain dual citizenship.
- Analyze under a different lens the requirement of “immigrant intent” for Venezuelan students in the United States, who cannot currently demonstrate strong ties to Venezuela or maintenance of residence abroad due to the political crisis.
It is critical for the United States Government to adjust its immigration treatment of Venezuelans, to act consistently with its foreign policy of opposition to the human rights violations in the country. Asylum Officers should not ignore the fact that Venezuelan refugees have captured the world’s attention, including international organizations such as the UN Refugee Agency which has recommended for Venezuelans not to be deported by other countries as their lives are at risk; therefore, it is clear that for asylum purposes, Venezuelans who have opposed Maduro’s government, have a well-founded fear of being persecuted.