Ecuador is a favorite destination for Venezuelans escaping the political turmoil, raging inflation and, food shortages of their home country. In fact, they are quickly forming one of the largest expat groups in the country.
Immigration authorities say that 476,132 Venezuelans entered Ecuador since 2012 with 38,087 of those remaining in the country. They report that Cuenca, Quito, and Guayaquil are the cities absorbing most of the newcomers.
“Many of us who are relocating are of the professional class of Venezuela,” says Daniel Vergara, a pharmaceutical chemist, who arrived in Quito in 2014 and today operates an online medical consultations project. “This is a migration similar to the one of doctors, lawyers and engineers from Cuba to the U.S. in the last century. Ecuador is getting many of Venezuela’s ‘best and brightest’ and will benefit from the new talent.”
Vergara adds: “Ecuador has been good to me and my family and I have no intention of going back to Venezuela.”
The story is much the same for Paúl Camisa, a surgeon who moved to Cuenca from Caracas in 2015. “I am one of seven Venezuelan doctors working at the IESS hospital in Cuenca and we are very happy to be here,” he said. “We left a situation back home where we did not have the medical equipment and medicines we needed to do our jobs. Our patients were sometimes dying before our eyes because we lacked basic supplies. For us, it is like a dream in Cuenca where we have everything we need to perform our work.”
Ecuador’s immigration office estimates that 3,500 Venezuelans with legalized permanent residency have settled in Quito, with 2,000 now living in Guayaquil, and 1,500 in Cuenca. They estimate that thousands more are in the process of applying for visas.
According to Gustavo Ramos at the San Francisco University in Quito, not all immigrants from Venezuelans are getting good jobs. “There are many, including some with advanced educations, who are taking jobs outside their professions to sustain themselves in Ecuador,” he says. “They sell food on the streets, clean houses, work construction jobs, or do whatever they can. Even so, life is much improved for them compared to what it was back home.”
The Venezuelan expats have established social media support networks to help each other adjust to a new life and to find jobs. “We have an active WhatsApp network in Cuenca as well as a Facebook page and we organize social events and offer information this way.”
He adds: “We understand that the economy in Ecuador is in a hard period but life here, especially in Cuenca, is so much better than what it was in Venezuela. We feel like we are in paradise.”