Venezuelans Seek Amnesties, "Temporary" or Permanent

By Kausha Luna, August 10, 2016

On Monday, Venezuelan exiles in Florida urged American authorities to grant "migratory relief" to those fleeing Venezuela for "political reasons."

Jose Colina, president of the organization Politically Persecuted Venezuelans in Exile (or Veppex), told the Spanish news agency EFE, "Any measure taken is important because it will resolve the problems of many Venezuelans that are in limbo, in the shadows."

In an interview with El Venezolano TV, Colina spoke in favor of the Venezuelan Refugee Assistance Act (H.R. 3744), introduced by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) in October 2015. The legislation would provide for the adjustment to permanent resident status of Venezuelan nationals who: were physically present in the United States on January 1, 2013, have been physically present in the United States for at least one year and, are physically present in the United States on the date the status adjustment application is filed, have not been convicted of certain specified crimes and were never involved in the persecution of others, and apply for adjustment before January 1, 2019. Additionally, derivative adjustment of status is provided for the spouse, minor child, and/or certain unmarried adult sons or daughters of such aliens.

Colina emphasized that the Venezuelan Refugee Assistance Act would differ from the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA), as it would apply only to those who were already in the U.S. on or prior to January 1, 2013. As such, he said H.R. 3744 would not apply to "recent arrivals" and would thus not encourage illegal immigration — as is the case with the CAA and "wet foot, dry foot" policy that attracts an ongoing flow of Cuban illegal aliens.

The Veppex president also recognized that other organizations that have proposed Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuelans, but insists the current situation requires a more permanent situation – noting the large majority of Venezuelans have no intentions of going back. In FY 2015, Venezuela was among the top 10 countries whose citizens had overstayed their visas in the United States.

USA Refugees & Immigrants is one of the organizations that has suggested TPS as a solution. Deputy President Carmen Gimenez, told EFE that she is not confident that Curbelo's bill will pass due to a "lack of political support and time." However, she is optimistic that TPS could be granted, which would allow Venezuelans to "have a quiet life." She also noted that it would likely be renewed, considering that the conditions in Venezuela would not change any time soon. (She is likely correct; there is nothing as permanent as TPS.)

These calls for amnesty come at a time when Venezuelan asylum applications to the U.S. are increasing dramatically. According to an analysis by the Pew Research Center, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data shows that so far in FY2016, U.S. asylum applications filed by Venezuelans have increased 168 percent in comparison to the same period the previous year. Between October 2105 and June 2016, 10,221 asylum applications were filed by Venezuelans, compared to the 3,810 applications filed during the same period the previous year. It should be noted that this does not include asylum applicants in the process of deportation (which are called "defensive" applications, as opposed to "affirmative" applications from people not already being deported). Moreover, Venezuela is now the third largest source of asylum applications, following only China (11,826) and Mexico (10,749).

How Many Venezuelans? The number of Venezuelans in the U.S. who could potentially benefit from either the permanent or temporary amnesty schemes is quite large. The public use files of the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey (CPS) from the first half of 2016 show that there are about 82,000 Venezuelans who are not U.S. citizens who indicated that they came prior to 2013 (the cutoff date for H.R. 3744).

Of that number, some have green cards and would not need any kind of status. The rest are on long-term temporary visas (e.g. guest workers or foreign students) or are illegal aliens. (It is well established that illegal immigrants respond to Census Bureau surveys such as the CPS.) The long-term temporary visitors and the illegal aliens, including those currently in deportation proceedings, would be eligible to apply for adjustment to permanent residency under H.R. 3744. Based on the number of green cards issued in recent decades (and thus subtracting them from the pool), there are perhaps 57,000 Venezuelans eligible to apply.

This number is not adjusted for undercount. The Department of Homeland Security has estimated in the past that the undercount for illegal aliens in Census Bureau data is 10 percent. If we apply that same undercount percentage to this population, it would add some 5,700 additional possible applicants. This would mean there are about 63,000 Venezuelans who might benefit from the Venezuelan Refugee Assistance Act. The margin of error for CPS estimates of this size is about ±11,000. This would indicate that there are perhaps between 52,000 and 74,000 Venezuelans eligible for permanent status under the Venezuelan Refugee Assistance Act.

Since the cutoff date for TPS is usually the day of its announcement, the number of Venezuelans who could get that temporary amnesty is even larger.

While only a very rough estimate, this does show that the number of potential beneficiaries could be very large. Especially, when one considers that in recent years we have given out only about 9,000 green cards annually to citizens of Venezuela.

Ultimately, should either of these proposed amnesties come to fruition, the result would be an incentive for increased Venezuelan migration.