Venezuela

U.S. embassy in Venezuela to begin issuing visas again. But who can afford them?

A government supporter holds a representation of Venezuela's national flag during a closing campaign for the ruling socialist party in Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday, June 26, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have fled the country in recent years amid an economic and political crisis.
A government supporter holds a representation of Venezuela's national flag during a closing campaign for the ruling socialist party in Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday, June 26, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have fled the country in recent years amid an economic and political crisis. AP

For the first time in more than 18 months, Venezuelans trying to go to the United States for business or pleasure can apply for a visa in Venezuela.

In a statement on its website, the U.S. embassy in Caracas said it will begin accepting applications for B-1 and B-2 visas — used for temporary business and tourism travel — starting Jan. 17.

Visa services in the South American country have been suspended since May 2016, when Washington and Caracas both ejected diplomats and the embassy said it didn’t have the staff to process visas. An embassy spokesperson Wednesday said the consular office was now almost fully staffed.

Read More: U.S. slaps four more Venezuelans with sanctions

The move will be a welcome relief for Venezuelans who have been forced to make a sometimes grueling overland trek to neighboring Colombia to apply for a visa.

Even so, at a cost of $160 per visa application, the price is prohibitive for most Venezuelans. The minimum wage is equal to about $7 a month.

The move comes just weeks after Todd Robinson was appointed as the embassy’s chargé, the highest ranking official absent an ambassador.

In a Spanish-language statement, Robinson said the renewed activity “will help support legitimate trips to the United States while we protect our citizens.”

"The Venezuelan people are starving and their country is collapsing," President Donald Trump stated before the United Nations on Sept. 19, 2017. He later called on other countries to do more to address the crisis in Venezuela under the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro, which "has inflicted terrible misery and suffering on the good people of that country."

“The USA is full of friendly faces, natural marvels, shopping, technology and sports, which both countries love, such as baseball,” he said.

Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have fled the country in recent years amid an economic and political crisis. On its website, the embassy warned that applicants must have strong ties to Venezuela and “the clear intention of returning” after they visit the United States.

Read More: Venezuelan exodus reshapes a region

The United States and Venezuela have long been at odds and the two countries have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010. Washington has also been ratcheting up the pressure on the socialist administration with financial sanctions and the freezing of assets of more than 20 current and former government officials, including President Nicolás Maduro.

Maduro and his government consider the sanctions illegal and have accused the United States of financing coup plots and using other illicit means to topple the socialist administration.

Venezuelan police set fire to motorbikes belonging to the press, after police were targeted with an explosive device on Sunday, July 30, 2017. A group of around 50 journalists was reporting on the clashes between the national guards and anti-government protesters when the pro-government forces targeted their motorbikes at a corner of the Plaza Francia de Altamira, in the capital.

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