COVID-19’s Transformation of Venezuelan Migration Flow in Latin America & the Caribbean

The Americas region is now one of those most affected by COVID-19, with more than 26.4 million cases and more than 723,000 deaths*. In Latin America, the highest numbers of reported cases are in Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina. Although movement of Venezuelan migrants and refugees has continued throughout the pandemic, COVID-19 (and the measures put in place to deal with it) has had a significant impact on migratory flows in the region 

Conditions for Venezuelan migrants and refugees that were already difficult have worsened considerably since the beginning of the pandemic, with access to livelihoods and aid further restrictedwhile government policy and actions or other factors such as work opportunities also affect the flow of migration. 

A recent study by Sayara International, commissioned by JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency), explores migration patterns in seven countries in LAC and the impact of COVID-19 on those. The resulting data enable governments, NGOs, and other bodies to make informed decisions about how best to support migrants, refugees, and receiving communities. 

The Study 

To draw conclusions on potential scenarios that might be expected in the coming months, Sayara International analyzed migratory flows of Venezuelan migrants and refugees to Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Trinidad and Tobago. We examined: 

  • The progress of the pandemic and the main measures aimed at controlling it. 
  • The macro-economic impacts of COVID-19, including effects on GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and employment conditions – factors which inform assumptions about a country’s capacity to integrate the migrant population after its emergency response.
  • Based on studies carried out in different locations, the team identified groups within Venezuelan populations who have a greater inclination to return to their native country. 

The analyzed information was then used to provide an overview of the possible trends of Venezuelan migrant flows after the first phase of the pandemic. 

Livelihoods and Access to Aid 

Conditions for Venezuelan migrants and refugees worsened with the progress and extension of COVID-19 isolation measures. These forced the closure of many businesses and made it impossible to carry out informal commercial activities in public spaces, from which a large proportion of Venezuelans obtain their livelihoods.  

On the other hand, high levels of irregular migration of Venezuelans with non-national status in the host countries posed considerable barriers to accessing government aid. Meanwhile, non-government entities which had been providing assistance to the Venezuelan population faced difficulties in continuing their work. Such conditions have forced many migrants and refugees to attempt to return to their home country or re-migrate to neighboring nations. 

Government Impact on Migration 

Sayara found that several components of migratory flows are affected by (although not necessarily determined by) the policies, regulations, and actions for economic recovery and international human mobility taken by the Latin American governments, including that of Venezuela.  

In general, data suggest that countries with higher volumes or proportions of Venezuelans also have more unmet needs – and, therefore, worse conditions. The most complicated scenarios and highest proportion of unmet needs for Venezuelan migrants, refugees, and the host communities are found in Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. In Chile and Argentina, conditions are – comparatively – most favorable for migrants, refugees, and the national populations, while Panama and Trinidad and Tobago fall somewhere in the middle. 

Predicting Migratory Movements 

The research team concluded that the new migratory movements also occur depending on the relative attractiveness of the countries of destination  small flows of Venezuelans are expected from their current residences to neighboring countries with a better relative situation. Following this logic, the most typical movements may be expected as follows: 

  • From Ecuador to Colombia, Chile, Argentina
  • From Peru to Colombia, Chile, Argentina
  • From Argentina to Chile

There are other kinds of movements, such as those aimed at performing work on the border or those of a seasonal nature (especially for agricultural activities). However, it is even more difficult to make predictions on those at the current time, as they are associated with very specific economic sectors which are yet to see the impact of a potential global economic crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Future Migration from Venezuela 

Over the coming months and beyond, it can be expected that human mobility from Venezuela will continue, as neighboring countries implement measures to re-open small businesses and other sectors of the economy. The pandemic will continue to transform the migration flow, leading to congestion at the borders and complicating the situation for those trying to reunite with their families and seeking better living conditions in the region. 

Download the report to read more findings. 


Note: To support the Colombian government and the migrant and refugee community, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) commissioned a research study from Sayara International. This study sheds light on the needs of migrants, refugees, returnees, and receiving communities in Colombia, while also exploring the institutional and international response (with the associated financial and service delivery challenges), the provision of which is affected by the continuous flow of migrants and refugees. 


*as of 30 November 2020, according to the WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard