By Bibi Khatoon
The International Office for Migration (IOM) is calling for simpler systems to be put in place for Venezuelan migrants here to access work permits in order for them to be employed without being exploited and becoming victims of human trafficking.
With an estimation of over 30,000 Venezuelans in Guyana, Project Officer of the IOM, Monserrat Hernandez, told the News Room that: “Persons, even if they have a three-months stay permit which makes them to be in a regular situation in Guyana, they do not have access to work permits, so this makes it harder for them to have a formal job and, then of course, puts them at more risk of being victims of exploitation, of human trafficking.”
During an interview with the News Room, Hernandez explained that the current process to acquire a work permit involves a lot of bureaucracy and the need for a lot of documentation from the migrant worker as well as from employers.
She said there needs to be more awareness so that the business sector can also buy-in and assist those in need of permits.
“We also recognise for example, that for small employers, it’s more difficult because it entails…more responsibilities for them and this is a challenge…
“[Making it easier] will benefit all, not only will the migrants be able to access better jobs and working conditions, but it also, at the end, benefits the country since when the migrants get rights, it also means more responsibilities,” the Project Officer explained.
She is suggesting support programmes from the government to encourage businesses to get ensure their employees are in possession of work permits.
The IOM will soon release a labour force survey which assessed the needs in the workforce and focused on how migrants can contribute.
As a result of the worsening economic crisis in Venezuela, thousands of nationals have migrated to Guyana through Regions One and Seven where the border is more porous. While some have settled in those regions, many have travelled to Regions Two and Four where they are either renting or squatting.
The IOM is currently implementing a project across the Caribbean and Latin America in response to the Venezuelan migrant situation.
Some of the activities have been stymied due to the COVID-19 pandemic but through this project, the organisation provides food, hygiene kits and other items to the migrants.
The IOM, which is funded by the United Nations, also provides grants for the migrants to start their own business along with providing online training to ensure the businesses are sustainable.
Hernandez lauded the Guyana government’s approach of dealing with the Venezuelan migrants at a time where countries like Trinidad are deporting them.
“In the Caribbean region, it is the only country which made flexible their immigration policies towards Venezuelans. One part has to do with the fact that years back, Guyanese persons migrated to Venezuela…giving persons access to have regular stay gives them protection,” she noted.
In its bid to incorporate Venezuelan migrants into the local economy, the Ministry of Health has also been transcribing many of its COVID-19 related brochures and information to Spanish.
It has also been releasing the daily COVID-19 dashboard in Spanish.
The Ministry of Education has also put systems in place to integrate children into the public schools. In September, the United States Government committed US$5M to Guyanese authorities to help the migrants who have fled to Guyana.