Venezuelans Fleeing Food Lines May Rue Chile's Act of Generosity

(Bloomberg) -- Chile’s act of regional solidarity -- granting Venezuelans fleeing their country’s economic collapse with a special visa -- may not be all it seems on first sight.

Under a series of decrees announced Monday, Chile will provide Venezuelans with a tellingly named “democratic responsibility” visa that will enable them to live and work in the country for one year. That visa is renewable and can become permanent.

“This decision is a very positive announcement for the thousands of Venezuelans who are fleeing the country,” said Venezuelan lawmaker Carlos Valero. “We hope that the rest of the region joins them.”

The devil is in the detail though. Venezuelans must apply for the visa at the Chilean consulates in Venezuela, with their passport. Many Venezuelans don’t have a passport and would need to pay fixers hundreds of dollars to get one. Moreover, according to a Foreign Office website, only one Chilean consulate in Venezuela can deal with visas, and that is in Caracas. At present, Venezuelans can use their identity cards to come to Chile, though they need a passport to obtain a work visa.

“The reality for many Venezuelans is that they can’t access a passport,” said Geoff Ramsey, assistant director for Venezuela at the Washington Office on Latin America. “There are so many bottlenecks to the process and it’s very expensive.”

The cost of a passport is beyond most Venezuelans, where the minimum wage is now below $4 a month under the black market exchange rate.

The problem for Chile is the sheer scale of the exodus. Venezuela, a country of 32 million people, has seen a collapse in living standards, with millions now trying to leave the country.

Chile, which has a population of 18 million, was the fourth largest recipient of Venezuelans last year after Colombia, the U.S. and Spain, with more than 100,000 arriving on tourist visas. Many then found work and went through the lengthy process of getting a work permit. Hundreds line up for hours every day at the immigration office in lines stretching for blocks.

Much of that paperwork for Venezuelans will now be transferred to the Chilean consulate in Caracas, which with only eight employees, according to one Chilean newspaper, may not get much help, at least at first.

“The idea is that the technical capacity that we have today at our consulates will be able to meet the demand,” Interior Minister Rodrigo Ubilla said Tuesday. If demand proves too much, the government will look to employ more officials, he said.

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