Photo via Panama Post

Argentina has officially made it easier for Venezuelans to legally reside in the country.

In a new disposition published last Friday, the National Migrations Department (DNM) determined to extend deadlines and/or exempt Venezuelan citizens from presenting certain documents required to acquire residency permits when “reasons that escape their will prevent or difficult the obtainment or fulfillment of the presentation of the required documentation.”

The decision was announced in an event for the 69th anniversary of the DNM and comes at a time of exponential increase in the number of Venezuelans immigrating to Argentina. The large majority of them arrive after escaping the dramatic economic, political and humanitarian crisis the Caribbean country is going through, and that has driven a sizable portion of its population to other countries.

While Colombia and Brazil are the main destinations chosen due to the fact that they are at the other side of its border there are currently about 42,000 Venezuelans living in Argentina. In fact, the disposition points out that they have become the third nationality with the most residency requests in Argentina, only behind Bolivians and Paraguayans.

Currently, Venezuelans don’t have to present as many documents as foreigners from most other countries to be given a DNI identity card and a residency permit. They acquired that benefit when the country joined the Mercosur trading bloc and, even though the Caribbean country never formally approved or regulated its immigration deals and is currently suspended from the bloc, the Argentine government decided to keep the benefits anyway to mitigate the negative impact the decision has on the country’s population. Right now, they only thing they need is their personal identification, a signed affidavit and a document stating the absence of a criminal record.

However, even getting these documents can be challenging. Vincenso Pensa Terán, director of Asociación de Venezolanos en Argentina (Asoven) told The Bubble that the criminal record check is the largest obstacle to getting the permit.

“It takes a really long time. In most cases people need to get them with the aid of a business agent in Venezuela. Problem is, they ask for up to US $200 in a country where people make US $2, 3 or 5 a month. And then you have cases where the name on the record does not match the person who requested it, so they have to go to the embassy and send it back. On top of that, the embassy is getting up to 5,000 records a week, and they need to check every single one of them. But we need them, because without documentation it is not possible to get a stable job,” he said.

Photo via El Universo
Photo via El Universo

When asked about whether he thought the reasons for this had to do more with incompetence or sheer lack of will from the government, he said it is a mixture of both: “They do not ban people from leaving the country, but they make it as difficult as they can. It’s a mixture of inefficiency and the fact that they are overwhelmed by a migratory wave that is leaving, looking for a way of living that is dignifying,” said Terán, who arrived to Argentina 14 years ago and, besides running Asoven, owns a newspaper and magazines stand.

Since getting these documents may be beyond their capabilities, the government decided this factor can fit the description of Argentine Law 25,871’s article 34, which indicates that “entry to the country by foreigners who do not meet the requirements established by law can be authorized when there are exceptional reasons of humanitarian nature, public interest or the need to fulfill commitments made by Argentina.”

The disposition also argues that this new measure will, for example, prevent criminal networks from profiting off the needs of Venezuelan families seeking to obtain the necessary documents.

Pensa Terán explained that Asoven was born 19 years ago as a cultural expression. “We wanted to maintain our customs here and also help people who come to the country to adapt. Now its purpose has shifted a lot. We continue to promote the culture, but now we mainly promote the culture of life. We are aware that we can’t change reality, but we can improve the reality of those who come here,” he said. However, he clarified that Asoven is a civil association and therefore has no contact with the political world.

Pensa Terán went on to say Asoven wants to “be a house for all Venezuelans.”

“Those who are pro-Chavez and those who are against. We don’t want people to feel marginalized, as some feel like that for having supported Chávez. We have not protested against Maduro. We have marched demanding human rights,” he explained. Nonetheless, he said that even though the organization does not march in favor or against political parties, they won’t “not acknowledge what’s going on” in the Caribbean country.

Photo via Panorama
Photo via Panorama

According to information from the DNM, by the end of 2017, Argentina had granted 31,167 residency permits to Venezuelan citizens. In January only, 10,000 more were given.

The decision also comes at a time of heightened tensions – even more than usual – between Argentina – most of Latin America, actually – and Venezuela. On Friday, President Maduro promised to attend the Summit of the Americas in Lima, challenging Peru’s decision to withdraw the invitation to the meeting.

The Lima Group – of which Argentina is part – met earlier this week, as a result of which Peru indicated that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro would no longer be welcome at the Summit of the Americas, arguing that there had been a breakdown of the normal functioning of democratic institutions in Venezuela. Controversial early presidential elections, and the terms of those elections, have been cited by Lima as the reason for withdrawing its invitation.

Maduro challenged President Mauricio Macri to organize a UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) summit. “I say to the Argentine president, Mauricio Macri, call a meeting, dare to do it, don’t be afraid of me. Call a meeting as president of the UNASUR a summit of UNASUR countries and I’ll go to that summit and we’ll be face to face and I’ll defend Venezuela’s truth.”

In the meantime, Argentina is ready to welcome more Venezuelans who seem to have a better quality of life.