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Temporary Protection Status for Venezuelan Migrants: Colombia

Colombia’s ten-year Temporary Protection Status for Venezuelan migrants and refugees

July 18, 2023
Author: Laura Maria Rojas Morales

In February 2021, the Colombian government launched the Temporary Protection Status (Estatuto Temporal de Protección para Migrantes Venezolanos, or ETPV), a ten-year regularization status that grants access to formal employment, education, healthcare, and financial services for almost two million Venezuelan migrants and refugees. The EPTV has been internationally recognized as a humanitarian gesture that sets a progressive new model for integrating migrants and refugees.

The current political and economic situation in Venezuela has led to a rise in migrants and refugees fleeing violence, insecurity, and scarcity of food, medicine, and essential services to neighboring countries.1 By March 2023, there were 7,1 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants worldwide2 and after 2017, the exodus of low-income Venezuelans accelerated.3 By February 2022, the number of Venezuelan migrants in Colombia had reached 2.48 million, a significant increase from the 403.702 Venezuelan migrants in 2017,4 making it the country with the highest influx of Venezuelan population (approximately 33 percent of the total migrant population).5 Most migrant families arrive with limited resources and urgently require documentation, shelter, food, and medical assistance. By the end of 2020, 56 percent of newly arrived Venezuelans6 entered the country without crossing the official border, with falsified documentation, or were exceeding the granted time on a visa or residence permit. Lack of documentation or permission to stay in nearby countries also hindered access to basic social services.7

In February 2021, the Colombian government launched the Temporary Protection Status (Estatuto Temporal de Protección para Migrantes Venezolanos, or ETPV) via a decree. This legal mechanism facilitates the transition of migrants from an emergency migratory regime to a regularization status, granting them access to formal employment, education, healthcare, and financial services. The program provides a ten-year permit of stay, during which migrants have the opportunity to obtain a resident visa that would allow them to remain in the country beyond the initial period.

The ETPV aims to foster the inclusion of Venezuelan migrants into Colombian society while discouraging unsafe methods of entry into the country.8 The permit grants Venezuelan migrants eligibility for national subsidies and services under the same conditions as Colombians, ensuring equal opportunities for medium- and long-term integration.9 Moreover, it incorporates safeguards to protect Venezuelan children and adolescents free entry and exit from the country (with a maximum of 180 days spent outside Colombia), and it facilitates the resident visa process.

Eligibility includes Venezuelans who crossed the border prior to January 31, 2021, regardless of their immigration status, and those who enter Colombia legally in the next two years—up until May 28, 2023.10 11 Colombian authorities estimated the measure could benefit more than two million people.12


Historically, Colombia’s enduring internal armed conflict and economic instability have positioned it as a country of origin for migrants and refugees, rather than a destination for migrants and refugees.13 However, in recent years, the country has had to adopt a migration policy in response to the growing influx of Venezuelans.

From 2015-17 under President Juan Manuel Santos’s administration, the government focused on short-term humanitarian measures such as the Border Mobility Card, which facilitated mobilization for residents living along the Venezuelan-Colombian border, and the Special Permit of Permanence (Permiso Especial de Permanencia or PEP) that provided Venezuelans with a two-year regular migration status.14

From 2018 to 2021, the government introduced medium-term initiatives aimed at granting migrants access to essential social services, such as health care, education, childhood care, and employment opportunities. These efforts included the Income Generation Strategy in collaboration with UNDP, which created routes, identifying actions and barriers, to enhance employability, foster entrepreneurship, and promote financial inclusion. This also included a 2019 decision to confer full citizenship to approximately 30,000 children born in Colombia to Venezuelan migrants and refugees.15


Assistance to Venezuelan migrants has mainly been funded by loans and international cooperation.16 The World Bank provided USD 1.6 billion in financing from 2019-2021. Most of these funds were in the form of loans.17 According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, USD 665 million will be needed in 2023 to support Venezuelan refugees and migrants.18


The ETPV has been recognized as a pioneering policy and as “the most important humanitarian gesture in decades.”19 By February 2022, approximately 2.4 million Venezuelans (96 percent of the migrant population), had applied for temporary protection status, and nearly 1.4 million applications  were approved by July 2022.20

The policy is relatively recent and impacts are yet to be evaluated. 

Some perspectives suggest that migrant workers can replace native workers in the labor market. However, experts increasingly agree that migrants and refugees contribute positively to the economy of their host country when they are fully included. Academic studies conducted in 2022 on the impacts of PEP in Colombia revealed that regularization of migrants resulted in higher wages and increased employment rates for migrants while having minimal negative effects on the employment of the local population.21 22 These studies have also suggested that regularization increased the likelihood of migrants’ affiliation to social welfare programs in Colombia by 43.4 to 46.1 percentage points. PEP beneficiaries also conveyed a greater sense of confidence when applying to government services, engaging with authorities to assert their rights, and negotiating working conditions.23

A key focus of the ETPV alongside other complementary policies has been the inclusion of refugee and migrant populations into national public services and benefit systems, leading to more enduring and cost-efficient outcomes. For instance, irregular migrants are usually attended by emergency medical services, which incur a higher cost compared to services accessed by regular migrants through established subsidized or contributory health systems.24 Additionally, regularization reduces the fiscal burden of migration in the medium term by facilitating migrants’ access to formal and higher-quality jobs, enabling them to generate their own income and pay taxes.25

Despite advances, challenges remain. Not all Venezuelan migrants meet the requirements for protection because they cannot prove their date of entry or provide valid identification documents, which leads to the presence of a black market for documentation services.26 Xenophobia is persistent in the country. According to a 2020 poll, only about 20 percent of Colombians approved the government’s migration approach and nearly 70 percent view Venezuelan immigration unfavorably.27

Furthermore, social services in Colombia are under strain due to an economic recession and growing inflation, and the increase of internal displacement due to violence and conflict in the country. Even with legal regularization, many Venezuelan migrants choose to seek better prospects elsewhere, like the US and Europe, since they face limited income and employment opportunities in Colombia.28