QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno on Friday signed a decree requiring Venezuelan citizens, who until now could cross the border with a passport or other form of identification, to have a visa to enter the country.
The measure “will also normalize the status of Venezuelan nationals that are already in the country and that have not broken the law, due to a humanitarian visa exception that offered them temporary residence,” Ecuador’s presidency said in a statement.
The new requirement was announced as part of a security plan for migrants, which includes tighter regulations like those adopted by Chile and Peru in recent months.
Venezuela’s economic collapse under President Nicolas Maduro has led to the biggest migratory crisis in recent Latin American history. The United Nations estimates nearly 4 million people have fled shortages of basic foods and medicines, forcing neighboring countries to adapt to an unprecedented surge in immigration.
The country also plans to conduct a non-obligatory census of Venezuelans living within its territory to help them access education, health and welfare benefits.
“The idea is formality, regularization,” Interior Minister Maria Romo said in a press conference on Friday.
Associations of Venezuelan migrants in Ecuador applauded the regularization plans, saying it would help combat labor exploitation and improve migrants’ living conditions, but criticized the visa requirement.
“We are concerned about the measure requiring a visa for entrance, it could violate certain rights,” said Eduardo Febres Cordero, president of the Foundation of Venezuelans Abroad.
Quito will recognize passports and other forms of identification up to five years after their expiration when granting visas for Venezuelans, as renewing government documents has become nearly impossible in the crisis-stricken country.
But the new measures could complicate travel for migrants who plan to traverse Ecuador to other countries in South America.
Ecuador has received some 320,000 Venezuelans and estimates the number could hit half a million by the end of the year.
Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Sarah Kinosian and Luc Cohen; Editing by Dan Grebler and Susan Thomas