Immigration and Citizenship Canada has reached an agreement that will allow Venezuelans caught up in their country’s administrative meltdown to remain in Canada even if their passports and other documents are no longer valid, CBC News has learned.
As millions of Venezuelans have poured out of the country, questions of establishing identity and verifying documents have plagued migrants and host governments alike. Venezuelan consulates either cannot or will not replace expired documents, leaving many citizens in limbo.
In Canada, some Venezuelans who came to the country on legal student visas have found themselves unable to continue their studies or graduate because they’ve been unable to update documents. Others with permanent residence have seen their progress toward citizenship interrupted because their Venezuelan documents are no longer valid.
The Canadian government is expected to announce shortly that it will recognize Venezuelan passports that are about to expire, or have expired in the last five years.
Those documents will be accepted in applications for Canadian visitor visas, study and work permits. They also will be considered valid for the purposes of obtaining permanent residency, or applying to extend a Venezuelan citizen’s stay in Canada.
Immigration Canada said the decision essentially recognizes a decree approved on June 7 by the opposition-dominated National Assembly of Venezuela, extending the validity of expired documents.
Venezuela’s exodus has swollen to the point where the Organization of American States recently warned it could top eight million by the end of 2020. That would make it the world’s biggest outflow of refugees, surpassing the 6.7 million who have fled Syria.
Most of the migrants have found refuge in other South American nations, including Colombia, Peru and Brazil. Some of those countries have relaxed documentation requirements to reflect the fact that the dysfunctional government of Nicolas Maduro is not issuing an adequate supply of new passports.
This month, Colombia offered citizenship to about 20,000 infants born in the country to undocumented Venezuelan mothers (Colombia is one of the few countries in the Americas without automatic birth citizenship).
High rejection rate for Venezuelans
Canada’s government has often praised its Latin counterparts for their welcoming attitude to migrants — but Ottawa has been criticized for not practising what it preaches. Venezuelans face some of the highest rejection rates of any nationality when they apply for Canadian visas.
Rob Oliphant, parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, told CBC News at the end of last month that Global Affairs was in talks with Citizenship and Immigration to get some movement on the file.
“We’ve raised the issue with the department,” he told CBC News’ The House.
Oliphant acknowledged that criticisms of the gap between Canada’s rhetoric and its actions on the Venezuelan migrant crisis were “very fair.”
“Absolutely, Canada has to find a way forward on this issue. This is an issue that’s been raised, believe me, by a number of members of Parliament,” he said. “This is an issue that has been raised strongly in my own riding.”
The change will deal with one of two issues that Venezuelan-Canadians say have disadvantaged them in Canada. Many community members have reported that their relatives — who have been able to visit them in the past without problems — are now being denied visitor visas, apparently due to a concern that Venezuelans may make asylum claims in Canada.
Tania Marin, a Venezuelan-Canadian who runs an international student placement agency in Toronto, said the visa denial issue has affected both the Venezuelan students she works with and her own family.
Marin said that even individuals who can show a history of travel, and prove they have adequate funds, are still being turned down — individuals like her own brother.
“He held a Canada visa for many years, he has a U.S. visa, he has traveled to the U.S. many times before applying here, and his application has been refused three times,” she said.