Is it difficult to survive in a new country


Claudia Vargas Ribas

To person

is a sociologist and political scientist, teaches and researches at the social science institute of the Universidad Simón Bolívar in Caracas. [email protected]

Venezuela went from being a country of immigration to a country of emigration in the course of the 20th century. This development came about because of deteriorating living conditions in the country, with the result that more people in precarious living situations emigrated than from any other Latin American country. There are different factors that influence the migration processes in different countries or regions, inside the political, economic and cultural situation as well as the natural conditions; External factors include the dynamics of globalization and the opportunities it offers people. The case of Venezuela shows how these factors directly affect the development of migration processes. The current deterioration in the situation in the country has not only led to the emigration of skilled workers and young people and the return of immigrants to their old homeland. Since 2014, completely different sections of the population have been migrating to meet their basic needs - especially nutrition and health care. This has consequences in the interior of the country and throughout Latin America, especially in the neighboring countries.

From immigration to emigration country

1983 is seen as a turning point in the Venezuelan migration process, as the Luis Herrera Campins government (1979-1984) took a number of economic measures, including controlling exchange rates, in response to decades of debt and corruption and the decline in world oil prices and the devaluation of the national currency counted. This made it more difficult to meet obligations and, for example, to service foreign debts, which in turn affected purchasing power and thus the quality of life of the population and meant the end of an era of oil-financed prosperity for the people of Venezuela. This hard cut is called "Black Friday" (four negro) designated. Locals as well as foreigners were affected by the consequences - whereby those who had come in search of a better life had to suffer most of the migrants. The Venezuelan emigration balance turned negative, which - with the exception of a slight increase in immigration between 2001 and 2011 - has hardly changed until today (Illustration). There are still people from Colombia coming into the country, especially refugees, who want to escape the internal conflict, but no longer at the previous level.
Immigration to Venezuela 1950–2011

As other Latin American countries had already experienced in the past, well-educated people began to emigrate to Venezuela, who, in view of high unemployment, inadequate salaries and deteriorating living conditions, saw no opportunities to develop further in their own country. The main reasons for this situation were the lack of a technological and scientific infrastructure and the successful recruitment of skilled workers by industrialized countries. [1] The emigration of skilled workers was a result of the low attractiveness of the regional labor market, which did not meet the requirements of the highly qualified and was characterized by anachronistic bureaucratic structures. This loss of intellectual capital, particularly through the emigration of scientific and technical personnel to industrialized countries, began in the 1980s and lasted until the late 1990s. It was an immense loss for the country, whose scientific and industrial development was in jeopardy in various areas. The brain drain threatened to have serious consequences in the medium and long term and showed the state's inability to act in the face of such challenges.

The second phase of Venezuelan emigration began with the election of Hugo Chávez as president in 1999. His tenure ended with his death in 2013, but his party would continue to rule until 2019. During this phase, more and more people decided to leave Venezuela for a short time in order to find a better life elsewhere. It was mainly young people who had a (mostly university) professional qualification, were between 25 and 40 years old and came from middle or higher social classes. In addition, many entrepreneurs chose to commute between Venezuela and abroad to invest outside of their home country, thus protecting their assets and escaping the economic situation in the country.

Major social and political changes occurred during this phase. The state reform that was implemented with the new constitution, which came into force in December 1999, played a prominent role. Also of great importance were political measures that contributed to the expansion of an oil-financed rent economy, provided for stronger state control of the economy and led to a decline in the productivity of the Venezuelan economy and its transformation into an export economy dependent on the constant flow of foreign exchange.

In addition, there is an official discourse in which a clear aversion to the middle class, the highly qualified and intellectuals is expressed - that is, everyone who is generally referred to as "rich" by the government and who are allegedly unable to understand the "reality of the poor" why they are discriminated against and denied recognition of their services. Because of this situation and the uncertainty of how the situation will develop, more and more skilled workers are emigrating. The majority complains that it is not possible to practice one's own profession in one's own country due to uncompetitive salaries and a lack of technical prerequisites. This tendency has increased in various professions and among the younger generation. Students see emigration as one of the most important options after graduation. [2]

A particularly suitable example to illustrate this situation is the strike in the Venezuelan oil industry, which occurred in 2002 after a call by the board of the state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). The call for a strike was in response to the fact that Chávez had fired seven employees in front of the cameras on his Sunday TV show "Aló Presidente". Sections of civil society, politicians and the Catholic Church supported the strike and the demonstrations that followed, which expressed dissatisfaction with the situation in the country. This development reached its climax on April 11 and 12, 2002, when Chavez resigned and then took back power, with the support of parts of the armed forces, among other things. As a result, there were unjustified mass layoffs in which 18,756 employees in the oil industry lost their jobs for political reasons. Subsequently, crude oil production fell sharply, which also led to falling revenues. [3]

This development at the oil company PDVSA was of enormous importance for Venezuelan migration, as many of these people left Venezuela in view of the political persecution and the deterioration of their economic and social status to either seek asylum abroad or to take up new work. It was a real intellectual bloodletting in Venezuela, and it took place in a key sector of the economy that generated 62 percent of the total income of all workers.

At the same time, the proportion of foreigners in Venezuela fell. In 2001, 4.4 percent of foreigners still lived in the country, but in 2011 it was only 4.2 percent. It can therefore be assumed that these people returned to their old homeland or emigrated to other countries. [4] It is noticeable that immigration to Venezuela in that phase was dominated by different nationalities than in the 20th century: After the turn of the millennium, people came from Cuba, Bolivia and China in particular. Immigration developed analogously to the rapprochement between Venezuela and these states at the time. [5]

Overall immigration to Venezuela has not increased even during the severe global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, although Venezuela has seen an economic boom since 2004. The reasons for this can be found in the country itself: there was no long-term investment and, despite improved economic indicators, structural problems were not addressed. This made Venezuela a less attractive destination for foreign immigrants and investments, especially since the locals themselves were leaving the country in increasing numbers, to Spain, Italy, Germany, Canada and the USA. Some of these states specifically recruited foreign skilled workers and offered them work or enrollment in postgraduate courses. There were also emigrants who found acceptance thanks to their dual nationality - many of them were of European and especially Spanish or Italian descent.

Another group of Venezuelans went to other countries in the region. Although this group is not representative, it was strongly characterized by entrepreneurs and people with an entrepreneurial profile. One of the destinations was Panama, which during the reign of Martín Torrijos (2004–2009) offered visa facilitation for investors in the real estate sector, tourism and trade. [6] The situation was similar with Colombia, to which women from the oil industry emigrated in 2003 and, in particular, entrepreneurs who stayed there temporarily or who traveled back and forth as a commuter in order to invest locally and thus secure their assets. Ecuador was particularly attracted to academics through its "Prometeo" program, the aim of which was to bring highly qualified people into the country and which, with the support of the national authority for education, science, technology and information, made the immigration of Venezuelan university teachers and researchers possible.

From 1999 to 2014, 4.8 percent of Venezuelans went abroad. [7] The majority of these people were looking for better living conditions or fled because of violations of their basic rights. The latter applies in particular to those who applied for political asylum abroad. The country lost highly qualified workers in their productive phase of life - a clear sign that the Venezuelan crisis was worsening.