Foreigners living in Ecuador without visas have until Monday, April 2, to get their affairs in order. After that, they could face fines as high $6,000.
Like many provisions of the country’s new immigration law, however, enforcement of the registration requirement may be delayed. In fact, the April 3 date is the third deadline issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, the agency responsible for immigration.
Raúl Abad, Cuenca regional director for ministry, says he has received no instructions that Monday’s deadline will change, but adds that there are unresolved issues in its execution. The biggest is the massive influx of Venezuelans who have entered the country in recent months. “Honestly, we are not sure how to deal with this in a humane manner,” he says. “We are still working to find a solution.”
Although Venezuelans are the largest group of unregistered aliens in Ecuador, Abad says that thousands of citizens from other countries are also unregistered, including those from Cuba, Haiti, the U.S., Colombia and Peru.
Leandro Cazar, representative of the Vino Tinto Foundation, which works to support the Venezuelan migrant community, says the unresolved issues will take months to work through. “We are talking about people, in this case the Venezuelans, who were forced to flee their homes and are now burdened with new requirements in Ecuador,” he says.
Among the problems faced by Venezuelans is the inability to obtain legalized documents from their home country. “The government is Venezuela is in disarray and they cannot or will not provide documents and document apostilles,” he says. “They are not even issuing passports so many are in Ecuador without valid passports. These things cannot be resolved based on the strict language of the law so other solutions must be found. As I see it, Ecuador has no choice but to postpone the deadline again.”
Both Cazar and Abad agree that many Venezuelans now in the country should be considered for refugee status, like Colombians fleeing the civil war in their country from 1980s and 1990s. “This is a legal designation, based on international protocols, that requires months to determine,” says Abad, adding that some Cubans and Haitains may also deserve refugee consideration.
According to immigration officials, more than half a million Venezuelans have entered Ecuador since 2012, with an estimated 40,000 choosing to remain, most of them unregistered.
Most Venezuelans live in Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil, Abad says, adding that as many 4,000 are currently living in Cuenca.