February 22, 2018 / 8:50 PM / 10 months ago

Argentina eases residency application for Venezuelan immigrants

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina is giving Venezuelan immigrants extra time to present documents needed to obtain residency due to delays in obtaining paperwork from their homeland, the head of the country’s migration authority said on Thursday.

Horacio Garcia, director of Argentina's National Migration Directorate speaks during an interview with Reuters in Buenos Aires, Argentina February 22, 2018. REUTERS/Martin Acosta

Like other South American countries, Argentina has experienced a surge in immigration from Venezuela, as hundreds of thousands flee the OPEC nation’s deepening economic crisis.

Government data shows Argentina granted residency to 31,167 Venezuelans in 2017, up from 1,510 in 2011. But around half of those applying for residence have not been able to obtain required documents from Venezuela’s government in time, according to Horacio Garcia, director of Argentina’s National Migration Directorate (DNM).

Speaking in an interview, he said that had recently prompted Argentina to loosen the deadlines for applications.

“It was something beyond the control of those who wanted to live here. The Venezuelan state has suffered an administrative collapse,” Garcia said. “What we have done is make that requirement more flexible as long as the applicant provides the documents sooner or later.”

The change comes as countries like Colombia and Brazil - which border Venezuela - implement tighter border controls to deal with a mounting influx of immigrants, potentially threatening a key safety valve for Venezuelans fleeing hyperinflation and a severe recession in the oil-rich country.

Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri is a leading critic of his Venezuelan counterpart, socialist Nicolas Maduro.

Garcia said Venezuelan migrants had struggled, in particular, to obtain criminal background records. Argentina changed its immigration law a year ago to make it easier to prevent individuals with criminal records from entering the country.

Last year, Venezuelans made up the third-largest group of new immigrants to Argentina, displacing Peruvians, who have a long history of substantial migration to Argentina, according to the DNM. Nearly 10,000 Venezuelans entered Argentina in January and February alone.

Yelisbeth Rodriguez Rodriguez, a 34-year-old Venezuelan architect, arrived in Buenos Aires with her two children and other relatives a few days ago.

“It has been very easy since we arrived in terms of the administrative process,” said Rodriguez Rodriguez, who obtained her criminal history records before leaving Venezuela.

Reporting by Maximilian Heath and Miguel Lobianco; writing by Luc Cohen; editing by Tom Brown

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