Dominican Republic, 3 October 2022 – For six consecutive years, John Sanchez has not been able to see his wife and daughters. The 29-year-old left Venezuela at the height of the economic crisis, alongside 6.8 million other people, leaving their homes with high hopes. John had plans to get a good job and send money home to feed his family, and eventually earn enough to have them join him in the Dominican Republic where he settled.
But he did not imagine how difficult it could be; the lack of documentation made it difficult to earn a living, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. He could barely live on what he earned doing deliveries. After six years of doing precarious jobs, he is among nearly 100,000 irregular Venezuelan migrants in the Dominican Republic who were granted regularization visas.
"My visa is my license to dream; I will be able to settle more safely and formally find a job in the marketing industry to apply my skills and university studies in this country. Everything will be different," he says, explaining that his priority is to send money home to feed his family and to reunite with them.
The historic country´s Special Stay Arrangements, supported by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), is providing a lifeline to Venezuelan migrants, allowing them to access decent jobs, health care and education by joining the social security system, and have bank accounts. The Dominican Republic is the first country to receive the Venezuelan population in the Caribbean, with more than 115,000 seeking new opportunities in the country.
The regularization process takes three stages, the first being the application for extension of stay, visa, and resident permit. Since April 2020, more than 42,000 Venezuelans have registered to extend their stay and, in September 2022, more than 21,000 have received their work visa. Thousands of others continue to go through one of the stages of the three-step plan.
Turning hope into reality
Yuly Gorrín, a 46-year-old Venezuelan entrepreneur, has been a food vendor selling white corn flour patties popularly known as arepas, alongside other Venezuelan traditional pastries, since 2018.
“Life as an undocumented migrant can feel like being a ghost.”
After four years, she has a sense of relief as she is set to get her regularization visa, which to her is a license to dream and one that will allow her to take her business to a different level beyond what her irregular status could.
“Regularization is vital because I can hardly access anything without it. With no proper documentation I am unable to sell my culinary products to supermarkets and shops,” says Yuly, whose business was given a boost by IOM with seed capital and business advice.
With IOM support, eight Venezuelan migrant organizations have created orientation hubs commonly known as “Ventanillas de Orientacion Gratuita” where more than 15,000 people applying for the plan have received process information, guidance, and documentation. The promoters and coordinators of each hub – mostly Venezuelan migrants – have learned the process and are piloting the group to receive their extensions and visas, making the process unique.
"A migrant helping a migrant, that is the idea of this process. My job as a Venezuelan is to guide other Venezuelans and make them feel like they are at home,” says Yuleima Sarraga, an educational promoter from Caracas who now works as a promoter at the orientation hub in Santo Domingo, one of the locations with the most people requesting support for their application.
Eight Venezuelan migrant organizations stationed alongside the hubs help disseminate quality information to the migrant community in the country through the “Globalízate radio” initiative led by the Dominican government.
A role model for the world?
The regularization of Venezuelan migrants and refugees is a crucial issue for host countries, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean, a region that hosts majority of the displaced people: 5.8 million of the 6.8 million worldwide.
Several countries are promoting the inclusion of the Venezuelans who are seeking to remain in their host communities, providing solutions and hope to thousands of migrants and sending an important message to foster inclusion and reintegration into hosting countries.
The response of Latin America and the Caribbean to Venezuelans could serve as a model of solidarity to other countries. Initiatives in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and other countries are facilitating documentation and seeking solutions to regularize and offer protection to the Venezuelan population, via different instruments in their national legislation.
These include platforms for coordination between regional governments that draw on technical expertise from nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations. However, regularization is a path, not a destination. To arrive at the destination of successful integration, continuous support by the international community is needed.
“Migration is overwhelmingly positive and beneficial to both migrants and host communities. If managed in a safe, orderly, and regular manner, it can be an element of development in host communities and improve income conditions,” said Josue Gastelbondo, IOM Head of Office in the Dominican Republic.
Like John, migrants in Venezuela are optimistic of the future. John's dream of regularization comes to life as he holds his visa with emotion; he foresees a lot of opportunities and openings. He can now get a job legally and can only think of embracing his wife and daughters again.
"Now that I have my visa, I can only think about being together with my family and bringing them all here to start a new and better life," he says.
This story was written by Gema Cortés, IOM Media and Communications Unit, Office of the Special Envoy for the Regional Response to the Venezuelan Situation.