Jobs and the Future of Work

The migration opportunity: Colombia's policy example to the world

Migration is the ultimate manifestation of liberty and entrepreneurship, where an individual for different reasons sets up on a voyage to find themselves and explore their potential, aligning their knowledge, talent and ideas.

Migration is the ultimate manifestation of liberty and entrepreneurship, where an individual for different reasons sets up on a voyage to find themselves and explore their potential, aligning their knowledge, talent and ideas. Image: Reuters/Leonardo Fernandez Viloria

Juan Pio Hernandez
Executive Director, Plan Pais
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  • Migration is too often framed as a problem, when it is an opportunity.
  • Colombia's progressive policies regarding Venezuelan migrants are to be applauded and emulated.
  • The Venezuelan diaspora has helped spread values of democracy and citizenship into its host countries and back home.

We live in historic times when it comes to migration. For the first time in recent history, the developed and developing worlds are in the same position as both emitters and receivers of migrants. Countries that are in the midst of having to face the consequences of either extremely youthful or ageing populations can now sit at the same table to find innovative proposals to integrate this great flow of human capital.

Instead of focusing on manufactured narratives about an immigration “crisis” with “out of control” border chaos, societies around the world should be demanding a change to the outdated and crime-incentivizing systems currently in place.

Migrants around the world should be celebrating and embracing the historic times they are living in. In the US, the country’s wealthiest and most newsworthy businessman is an immigrant from South Africa: A position that once was held by the Dale Carnegies and Nelson Rockefellers of America is now held by Elon Musk.

In entertainment, the highest-paid TV actress is a gregarious woman from Barranquilla, Colombia. Turns out that the current Lucille Ball or Carol Burnett is the hilarious Sofia Vergara, with her unique style of multicultural humour. This phenomenon is also taking place in politics, where the position once held by Winston Churchill is now held by Rishi Sunak: the first British prime minister of Indian descent.

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What do all these cases have in common? They are all examples of south-to-north migration flows that have generated so much growth and opportunity around the world. So why is it that instead of a global celebration of migration and the great attributes that it brings, the international narrative is still focused on a migration/refugee “crisis” and “out-of-control” borders? That is a question that needs some serious conversations and decisive action in the near term. The newsworthy phenomenon is that migration is currently also taking place on a south-to-south basis.

Colombia's open stance on migration

Nowhere is this phenomenon more impressive than in the case of Colombia, where the country went from having a foreign-born population totalling 133,000 in 2015 to currently welcoming almost 3 million Venezuelan migrants alone. As has been the case in Colombia, Venezuelan population flows provide one of the biggest opportunities for this global change of narrative around migration.

According to data compiled by the Red Global de la Diaspora de Venezuela (Diaspora of Venezuela Global Network), Venezuelan migrants around the world total 7.6 million people (a population size similar to that of Hong Kong, and larger than Singapore, Denmark and Ireland). Which makes Venezuelan migration flows the highest active migration phenomenon around the world.

The global Venezuelan diaspora is around 7.6 million people.
The global Venezuelan diaspora is around 7.6 million people. Image: Red Global de la Diaspora de Venezuela

To address this massive inflow of human capital, Colombia has given the whole world a great lesson about an open, welcoming, fraternal and responsible migration policy. Since 2018, the government has provided a series of measures to regularize and legalize the great inflow of Venezuelans arriving in the country.

As neighbouring countries like Peru, Ecuador and Chile turned to harsher migration policies and outdated visa requirements for Venezuelans at the time (which did not end up slowing the inflow of migrants), Colombia provided a series of innovative policies. This came to its apex in 2021 when a new policy was unveiled allowing Venezuelan migrants to legally live and work in Colombia for a period of up to 10 years. It was implemented at the same time as the government was providing social support and investments in health, education and social programmes to help in the development of both the migrant and native-receiving vulnerable populations.

With this lesson to the world, Colombia has the opportunity of being another example of the economic potential that migration brings to both the receiving and host countries. In December 2022, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) unveiled a research study that found that investments in Venezuelan migration have the potential of increasing GDP in host countries by up to 4.5% by 2030.

The research found no evidence that migrants were displacing domestic workers (as the mistaken narrative often preaches) and concludes that to “reap the benefits from migration”, host countries should look for regularization and integration policies to meet this great opportunity.

Spreading values

Multiple studies also conclude that diasporas and migration networks are also great ways to distribute new ideas and common values. When it comes to Venezuelans, this population shares the experience of escaping from a government-controlled economic model under a political system that has grown more dictatorial over the years; their decision to take their chances in foreign lands is a tacit rejection of this model.

Turns out that, perhaps because the country experienced the quickest erosion of democracy in recent memory, Venezuelans show the second highest support for democracy of any population in the Americas, according to the latest Latinobarometro study. This places Venezuelans as a potential protection shield against the threats to democracy currently emerging in the region, in places like the US, Peru and even in Colombia. Other studies have also shown how Venezuelan migrant populations form highly mobilized groups in terms of citizenship in all of the host countries they move it.

Immigration is also a source of youth, making it a great way to tackle the real crisis that most developed countries are facing: that of ageing populations. Most migrants arriving in these countries are young and of productive age, which brings a great opportunity to expand the taxpayer pool in developed countries that provide revenue to cover the costs of retirees.

According to the 2022 Living Conditions Survey in Venezuela (ENCOVI for its Spanish acronym), Venezuela has lost its demographic bonus (productive age population of a country). This begs the question: If Venezuela has lost this bonus, then who is gaining it? The obvious answer is host countries like Colombia, Peru and the US. This shifting demographic bonus also has the potential of being beneficial to Venezuela as well, via the power of the diaspora and the resources, networks, new ideas and entrepreneurial spirit that these bring to both the country of origin and host communities.

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Migration is the ultimate manifestation of liberty and entrepreneurship, where an individual for different reasons sets up on a voyage to find themselves and explore their potential, aligning their knowledge, talent and ideas. It is time to change the narrative around migration and celebrate the cases of individuals and countries who embrace it. Both developed and developing countries should seize the opportunity to have a serious and innovative debate to fix their broken and outdated immigration systems.

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