Why businesses must integrate Venezuelans as we emerge from Covid-19

By Felipe Muñoz (IDB's Migration Unit Chief) and Scarlet Cronin (Acting Executive Director of Tent)
as published in the Inter-American Development Bank Blog on April 26, 2021

Latin America is experiencing the biggest migration crisis in its history. Since 2014, more than five million Venezuelans have fled one of the worst economic collapses and humanitarian crises the region has ever seen — with the International Monetary Fund predicting that 10 million people will have left the country by the end of 2023. While to date Colombia has borne the brunt of this exodus, currently hosting 1.7 million Venezuelans, other countries like Peru, Chile, and Ecuador have also welcomed hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans to their shores.

Covid-19 has exacerbated this crisis in two critical ways. Firstly, conditions in Venezuela have worsened dramatically — meaning those who have fled are unlikely to be able to return home any time soon, and will likely remain displaced for years to come. Secondly, while everyone has suffered the devastating effects of Covid-19, Venezuelans have been hit especially hard. According to a report by the Center for Global Development, 64 percent of employed Venezuelans work in sectors highly impacted by Covid-19 (such as manufacturing, accommodation and food services, and retail), compared to 47 percent of employed Colombians.

As Latin American economies begin to emerge from the economic crisis, expediting Venezuelans’ economic integration into their new host countries is absolutely critical — not only to ensure Venezuelans can sustain themselves and their families, but also to allow them to contribute their talents to local businesses and local economies. 

As an extraordinary step toward integration, in February the President of Colombia Ivan Duque granted legal status to displaced Venezuelans in Colombia, giving them the right to work legally in the country. While this type of regularization is critical — and many countries in the region would stand to benefit from following Colombia’s lead — this is not an issue that governments can tackle alone. 

With a focus on convening the business community, policymakers, and other important stakeholders on this issue, in March, the Inter-American Development Bank’s Migration Unit, together with the governments of Colombia and Canada, organized an event to highlight the key role the private sector can play in increasing employment opportunities for migrants and refugees. In a similar vein, the IDB also launched MIGnnovation, a new approach to the challenge of migration. It focuses on supporting the public sector’s efforts, and driving the business community’s participation to unlock the region’s potential by ensuring the economic inclusion of migrants and refugees. 

The business community in Latin America has an essential role to play in ensuring Venezuelans can contribute meaningfully in their new communities — and many companies have already stepped up in recent years by offering employment opportunities and other services in support of Venezuelans across the region.

Teleperformance — a global business services company with a presence in more than 80 countries and a workforce of over 40,000 people in Colombia alone — has been hiring Venezuelan refugees. Today, Teleperformance employs more than 2,000 Venezuelans and is already experiencing considerable business benefits as a result, including lower turnover rates, as well as the high quality of work and productivity of its Venezuelans employees.

Fostering the growth of Venezuelan-owned small enterprises is another critical way of promoting their economic integration. Bancamía, an entity of the BBVA Foundation in Colombia, has helped Venezuelan entrepreneurs get access to banking, a major challenge for refugees, by adapting their products and processes to open credit lines and savings accounts for more than 3,800 Venezuelan business-owners. 

To support Venezuelans in São Paulo, Migraflix developed “MigraLab,” an entrepreneurship program for Venezuelans who want to develop food businesses. MigraLab was one of many programs funded by the BetterTogetherChallenge, created by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Inter-American Development Bank to fund creative solutions to support Venezuelans and their host communities. 

As the region makes its way toward recovery in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, the inclusion of Venezuelans has the potential to bring benefits to individual businesses and local economies. This won’t happen on its own. The Latin American business community must play a central role in integrating this population, to reap the benefits of this talented and resilient workforce. 

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