More than 130,000 migrants have left their homeland to make new lives in Argentina. Officials are drawing up plans to welcome them and smooth their passage into society, but assimilation can be far from easy.
The impact of Venezuela’s political and humanitarian crisis has extended well beyond its borders. And in Argentina, the presence of over 130,000 Venezuelan migrants is already impacting public policy and the country’s labour market.
The Mauricio Macri administration, whose recent diplomatic manoeuvring against the government in Caracas and its president, Nicolás Maduro, arguably sits well with the majority of Venezuelans now living in the country, is now looking at ways to encourage newcomers to fill labour market shortages in the provinces.
“We’re working with Río Negro, Chubut and Neuquén provinces. We’re working with a number of parties but Migraciones cannot resolve everything on its own,” said Dr Horacio García, the Director of the National Migrations Direction, in an interview with the Times.
“There are some provincial towns in Argentina that have been devastated because their youth has left. [But] we can change that with migrants who want to work in those places. But it’s not going to take five minutes, we need Congress to get involved,” he added.
Like other countries in a region renowned for its centralisation around major cities and capitals, official data suggests that over 80 percent of all migrants to Argentina settle in Buenos Aires. Provincial officials, however, are looking to alter that.
Authorities from another southern province, Tierra del Fuego, held meetings late last year with Venezuelan doctors and medical students in Buenos Aires to look at ways to incorporate them into the province’s healthcare system, Télam news service reported.
Despite leaving their own economic crisis behind, Venezuelan’s haven’t been dissuaded by Argentina’s recession from looking south for a brighter future. (Annual inflation in Argentina reached over 46.7 percent in 2018, while in Venezuela it soared above 1,000,000 percent).
Caracas-born Glenda Rodríguez was among the nearly 6,000 migrants who settled in Argentina in 2015, soon after the crisis began to bite in Venezuela. Another 60,000 of her compatriots have followed since 2016, the year in which the arrival of Venezuelans essentially began doubling every year, peaking at 31,000 in 2017, according to official data.
In Buenos Aires, Rodríguez is attempting to complete her studies, which she began in Venezuela.
“I got to the last year of my degree in dentistry in Venezuela. The UBA [University of Buenos Aires] only recognises half of my course credits so I am planning to start my degree again from the second or third year of the course programme,” Rodríguez told the Times.
The 34-year-old said that while she was “frustrated” with some of the bureaucratic delays at Argentina’s biggest public university, “it’s just not an option for me to go back to my country.”
“The security and economic situation in Caracas is critical at the moment,” she explained.
Like most of the three million people estimated to have left Venezuela as a result of the crisis, Rodríguez is — according to data from the United Nations’ International Organisation for Migration (IOM) — among the 60 percent of Venezuelan migrants who are aged between 26 to 44. Many of these are well-educated individuals too – more than 50 percent of Venezuelan migrants have some level of tertiary education.
PROCEDURES AND PAPERWORK
The increased number of Venezuelans arriving in Argentina prompted the Macri administration in 2016 to loosen immigration procedures, requiring less legal paperwork from Venezuelans even as their country lost access to the full benefits of the Mercosur trade bloc (Venezuela was suspended from the regional bloc in 2016.)
“If you imagine that millions of people are leaving Venezuela, then you understand how their system for producing legal documents is collapsing too. We see it in Migraciones where there is an inability among Venezuelans to provide complete documentation,” Dr García said.
His department is working with industry bodies to facilitate faster processes for the recognition of Venezuelans’ tertiary qualifications. While that process is slow and complex, he conceded, the first cohort of Venezuela-trained teachers was recently granted authorisation to work in Argentine schools.
Future changes could benefit the likes of Rodríguez, who left Venezuela before completing the final practical component of her degree in dentistry. She currently works for a telecommunications firm in Buenos Aires.
“I’m hopeful the UBA will give me a response this year so I can finally start working towards fulfilling my career goals,” she told the Times.
SIGNS OF CONFLICT
Though the process of integrating Venezuelan migrants in Argentina has run relatively smoothly so far, arrivals en masse are not without their problems.
As of late last year, Venezuelans working as sole traders for online food delivery apps in Argentina were waiting for final approval from the Labour Secretariat to organise as a trade union, after a series of disputes throughout 2018 that centred on job insecurity in the sector.
The Association of Platform Personnel (APP) lodged its request with the government in October. The group is composed predominantly of Venezuelan immigrants operating as sole traders for delivery apps such as Rappi and Glovo, which many Argentines are increasingly using to courier items, especially food and drink.
An estimated 20,000 people in Argentina are currently working in the sector, APP claimed, though not all are Venezuelans, of course.
In July, the APP led a “digital protest” against both companies, accusing them of failing to respond to workers’ demands for better delivery rates, insurance and healthcare coverage.
“Argentina has a general problem in its labour market, where many jobs are informal,” said Denis Portillo, the vice-president of UVENAR, a Venezuelan community group based in Buenos Aires. “This is not only affecting our community, but businesses are benefitting from people’s need for jobs – and they are clearly aware of the situation facing many Venezuelans.”
An administrative tribunal in Buenos Aires recently ruled in favour of an injunction against Colombia’s Rappi and Spain’s Glovo, which forces the firms to comply with outstanding insurance and tax obligations, as well as a number of safety regulations for workers.
On average, Rappi’s couriers earn 10,000 pesos (US$260) a month working up to eight hours a day, the company says.
“The delivery app phenomenon is a clear case of labour precariousness,” said Professor Ana Mallimaci, an investigator and sociologist at Argentina’s CONICET research body, who is currently working with the Mexican study group Red Migrar on a comparative investigation into Venezuelan immigration throughout Latin America.
“Since many Venezuelan immigrants are recent arrivals, they continue to believe that their current employment situations are temporary and therefore they are more willing to accept certain work conditions,” she said, citing interviews conducted throughout 2018 with Venezuelan immigrants in Argentina.
“Others compare their current situation with what they left behind in Venezuela or see themselves as flag-bearers of an entrepreneurial economic model which the Argentine government [of President Mauricio Macri] is promoting,” Mallimaci added.
Today, the United Nations (UN) estimates that there are some 2.4 million Venezuelans living across Latin America and the Caribbean as a result of the crisis. It estimates this figure could reach four million by 2021.
During Argentina’s 1976- 1983 military dictatorship, Venezuela received thousands of Argentine exiles as they fled the military junta. Now the tables have turned in the most dramatic of ways.