Global Responses to the Venezuelan Refugee Crisis: Two Case Studies in Immigration

By Zee Huff, J.D. Class of 2022

The twentieth century saw an unprecedented era of globalization, complicated by multiple transcontinental wars and the measures taken in the wake of each to prevent further conflict.1 After the founding of the United Nations in 1945, the destruction wrought by the Second World War and tensions rising in the emerging conflicts of the late forties necessitated the establishment of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 1950.2 While UNHCR was initially created to aid European refugees displaced by the Second World War, their role has since expanded to encompass nearly every other refugee crisis across the globe.3

However, while UNHCR remains one of the most important international bodies assisting refugees across the world, individual countries remain responsible for their own policies surrounding each new crisis.4 Their choices influence the conditions that refugees face as they flee their home countries.5 Those choices, too, play a part in determining both the severity and the duration of a crisis.6 One example is a country’s distinction — or lack thereof — between refugees from different crises.

Take, for example, the different international responses to the Venezuelan refugee crisis. After the death of Hugo Chávez in 2013, Nicolás Maduro ascended to the presidency.[7] The Venezuelan economy collapsed under Maduro, leading to shortages that have prompted over five million Venezuelans to leave.8 In addition to these basic concerns, the political situation has become more fraught. Maduro’s re-election in 2018 was contentious, most arguing that it was rigged in favor of Maduro.9 While the country’s legislature, and more than fifty countries, have recognized Juan Guaidó as interim president, the Venezuelan military has remained loyal to Maduro.10 Political dissidents, too, risk violence from those loyal to Maduro.11 The crisis is one of the largest displacement crises in the world12 and, from a purely monetary perspective, the crisis remains one of the most chronically underfunded in the world today.13 But more complex are the various legal statuses given to Venezuelan refugees across the Americas.

Countries in South America were swiftest to respond to the crisis. Chile’s response, in particular, is representative. In April 2018, the Chilean government introduced a Democratic Responsibility Visa (VRD, for the initials in Spanish) for Venezuelans, which could be requested by Venezuelans within their home country.14 In June 2019, Chile amended this, allowing Venezuelans to request DRVs from any Chilean consulate in the world.15 The VRD is a temporary residence visa that allows Venezuelan refugees to reside in Chile for one year.16 After the initial year, it can be extended for one additional year, after which Venezuelans must apply for a Definitive Permanence Visa, giving them a permanent status in Chile.17 The VRD provides access to employment for Venezuelan refugees and, through the eventual acquisition of a Definitive Permanence Visa, a pathway to voting rights and citizenship.18

The United States’ response, by comparison, has been more reserved. While Venezuelans who arrived in the United States could apply for asylum and for withholding of removal, a process available to all those fleeing persecution, there was initially no specially designated status or protection for Venezuelans.19 This has changed recently, by the Department of Homeland Security’s designation in March 2021 of Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status (TPS).20 DHS “may designate a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely,” with USCIS citing “ongoing armed conflict” as just one example of “extraordinary and temporary conditions.”21 TPS beneficiaries, once found preliminarily eligible, are allowed to remain in the United States and apply for employment authorization.22 Upon the grant of TPS, a beneficiary “also cannot be detained by DHS on the basis of his or her immigration status in the United States.”23 However, it is important to note that TPS is exactly what it says: temporary.24 It “does not lead to lawful permanent resident status or give any other immigration status.”25 This doesn’t mean that a TPS beneficiary cannot apply for nonimmigrant status, file for adjustment of status, pursue asylum, or apply for “any other immigration benefit or protection for which [they] may be eligible.”26 It does mean, however, that unlike the refugees seeking the Chilean VRD, Venezuelan refugees in the United States have a couple more steps before they can stay permanently.

When working and living under one immigration system, especially one as complex as the United States’, it can be difficult to remember that other possibilities exist. In a perfect world, immigration policy would be able to react with the speed and flexibility that evolving situations require. Even outside of the ideal, though, there are approaches within the constraints of our rigid systems that can offer solutions. And solutions, however temporary, pave the way for evolution.

[1] See generally M. Cherif Bassiouni, Chronology of Efforts to Establish an International Criminal Court, 86 Revue internationale de droit pénal 1163 (2015) (discussing historical efforts to establish an international criminal court, including discussion of both the League of Nations and the United Nations).

[2] History of UNHCR, UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency,

[3] Id.

[4] See generally Refugee & Asylum Policy, Migration Policy Institute (2021), (landing page for the Migration Policy Institute’s collection of articles on individual nation state policy).

[5] Omer Karasapan, Sharing the burden of the global refugee crisis, The Brookings Institution (2020),

[6] Id.

[7] Venezuela crisis in 300 words, BBC (Dec. 3, 2020),

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] PBS News Hour, Why Venezuela’s Chavistas are fiercely loyal to Maduro, despite economic crisis, PBS (Feb. 22, 2019),

[12] Venezuela situation, UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency,

[13] Venezuelan Humanitarian and Refugee Crisis, Center for Disaster Philanthropy (June 22, 2021),; Dany Bahar and Meagan Dooley, Venezuelan refugees and their receiving communities need funding, not sympathy, The Brookings Institutions (Feb. 26, 2021),

[14] UNHCR Fact Sheet: Chile, UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency (Aug. 2019),

[15] Chile offers ‘democratic responsibility visa’ to Venezuelan migrants, Reuters (June 22, 2019),

[16] OAS General Secretariat Launches Report on the Situation of Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees in Chile, Organization of American States (OAS) (May 29, 2020),; Informe: Situación de los migrantes y refugiados venezolanos en Chile, Organization of American States (OAS) (Apr. 2020),

[17] Erin Geist, Immigrants: A Threat to the Economy or Cultural Identity? A Case Study of Haitian and Venezuelan Immigrants in Chile (Apr. 30, 2020) (unpublished B.A. Honors thesis, University of Mississippi), (see Appendix B).

[18] Id.

[19] Designation of Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status and Implementation of Employment Authorization for Venezuelans Covered by Deferred Enforced Departure, 86 Fed. Reg. 13,574 (Mar. 9, 2021).

[20] Id.

[21] Temporary Protected Status, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) (July 6, 2021),

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.