Until a year ago, U.S. citizens made up the largest group of applicants for permanent residency in the Cuenca area. Today, they are outnumbered almost two to one by Venezuelans, a situation repeated in other immigration offices around the country.
“There has actually been an increase North Americans applying,” says Tina Ordoñez, who works at the Azogues immigration office, which serves Cuenca. “But there are many more Venezuelans making application and more are coming every day.”
According to Ecuador’s Ministry of the Exterior, which manages immigration services, most of the 2,000 Venezuelans who enter Ecuador each day plan to stay temporarily.
“We come to escape the hunger, violence, inflation and unemployment back home,” says María Teresa Rosales, an advocate for Venezuelans entering Ecuador. “Most of us hope to go home when conditions improve but we have no idea when this will be.”
Many, however, hold little hope of change back home and say they want to stay permanently in Ecuador. As with Venezuelans in Colombia, Peru, Panama and other countries, most who want to stay choose to locate in larger cities. “In Ecuador, we prefer Quito, Cuenca, and Guayaquil,” says Rosales.
Immigration officials estimate that there are 10,000 Venezuelans in Quito, 7,500 in Guayaquil, and 2,500 in Cuenca. The numbers, they say, include all Venezuelan immigrants, not just those seeking permanent residency. They numbers are expected to rise, officials say.
Unlike the flood of Colombian refugees fleeing civil war in the 1990s and early 2000s, most arriving Venezuelans are well educated, with 70% to 80% having graduate and post-graduate university degrees.
“It is good news and bad news that most of them are highly educated,” says Guillermo Ochoa, professor of Administrative Law at the University of Azuay in Cuenca. “They have a great deal to offer because of their professional status and their youth. On the other hand, Ecuador has an underemployment problem with many professionals working in jobs below their educational training. Most Venezuelans who plan to stay, are forced to take service jobs to survive.”
According to Ochoa, some Venezuelan professionals are able to find employment in their field, especially when there are no Ecuadorians to fill positions. He says that several dozen in Cuenca have found employment as medical specialists in the public health and IESS heatlh services.