Haitians and Venezuelans seeking to migrate to Chile now face tougher rules

Young Haitians learn Chilean life isn't what they expected

Thousands of young Haitians are looking for economic opportunity in Chile. But they don't always find it.
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Thousands of young Haitians are looking for economic opportunity in Chile. But they don't always find it.

Migrating to Chile is about to get tougher for Haitians.

Starting April 16, Haitians seeking to get into Chile will now need to request a visa from the Chilean consulate in Port-au-Prince, the South American country’s government announced Monday.

The tightened immigration rule is part of a series of immigration measures introduced by new President Sebastian Piñera, who also introduced new visa requirements for Venezuelans seeking to migrate.

Under the so-called Democratic Responsibility Visa, Venezuelans seeking to flee their country’s worsening political crisis will be able to apply for temporary residence in Chile for a year. But instead of making the request in Chile, Venezuelans will have to do so at home. As to whether it will make it easier or harder for them to emigrate, it all depends on how restrictive the Chilean consulate is.

The new measure will stop Venezuelans from traveling without passports — which have become exceedingly hard to obtain in Venezuela.

Until now, Venezuelans — like Haitians — have been able to travel to Chile and adjust their status once they are in the country by applying for a work visa, a cumbersome process that required a work contract and Chilean ID.

And for Haitian migrants, the new measures mean they will be restricted to a 30-day tourist visa. Those seeking to reside in Chile will have to apply for one of 10,000 humanitarian visas that will be set aside annually for family members or Haitian nationals who studied up to age 24.

“I’ve been receiving calls all day from Haitians saying they already bought tickets to travel for May and the end of April. They should go and get their money back from agents because they won’t be allowed to enter,” said Yvenet Dorsainvil, a Haitian migrant and activist with Chile’s National Coordinator of Immigrants.

Dorsainvil said he fears the new measures for Haitians will only exacerbate the illegal flow of people crossing by land from a neighboring country. Until now, Haitians have mostly traveled to Chile by air, knowing they could eventually get papers allowing them to stay.

Haiti lost 1 percent of its population, nearly 105,000 people, to Chile last year in search of a better life, but the unprecedented migration is not without consequences or controversy.

As for the humanitarian visa, he said: “It’s not normal, it’s not humane.... Piñera says he wants to prioritize children in Chile, well he can’t prioritize one set of children and put conditions on another group.”

A conservative billionaire who was inaugurated last month, Piñera has complained that Chile’s immigration laws lacked clear rules, and said the country urgently needs immigration reform. In addition to the new visa requirements, he presented a draft migration bill on Monday to congress that calls for allowing thousands of migrants without papers to be regularized. They are being asked to register with the authorities during a 90-day period starting April 23.

In the past four years, Chile has seen a dramatic increase in migrants, from 416,00 in 2014 to an estimated 1 million last year.

Last year, nearly 105,000 Haitians — or the equivalent of 1 percent of Haiti’s population — flocked to the South American nation as part of a mass exodus driven by Haiti’s young people, both educated and uneducated, and particularly the rural poor.

The International Organization for Migration estimates there were 34,623 Venezuelans living in Chile in 2016 — up from just 8,001 in 2015.

During his first term as president, Piñera instituted a similar visa requirement for citizens of the Dominican Republic, who until Monday’s announcement were the only group along with Cubans that was required to have a visa before arriving in Chile.

Immigrant rights activists have long argued that the visas increased Dominican migration, with people paying traffickers to smuggle them into the country across the land border, sometimes under harrowing conditions.

A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to 24 years of schooling for a humanitarian visa. It has been corrected to reflect the requirement of Haitian nationals who have studied up to the age of 24.