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Zoheny Lugo stands next to her daughter at home in the Patio Bonito neighborhood in Bogotá, Colombia.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Willing to work, in Colombia to stay

How the Lugo family, who moved to Bogotá in 2018, successfully entered the mainstream economy.

Colombia’s Temporary Protection Permit is a program that has benefited an estimated two-thirds of the 2.9 million Venezuelan migrants in the country. The legalized status lays the path to employment in the formal job market, and access to health care, schools, pensions and the financial system. Integrating Venezuelan migrants into the formal labor market could expand Colombia’s GDP almost 4% by 2030, according to a 2022 study by the International Monetary Fund.

Here in the U.S., President Biden last fall expanded Temporary Protected Status eligibility to include almost half a million recent Venezuelan arrivals. The status would allow them to apply for work authorization. But migrants who arrived after July 2023 remain ineligible. And the status, set to expire in April 2025, provides no path to citizenship.

By contrast, Colombia’s permit lasts 10 years and can lead to citizenship — in a country where the economy is less than 4% the size of the United States’. However, the program is now faltering and leaves many out.

[Read the full story — “What Colombia can teach Chicago about managing a migrant wave” — at]

🎧 In this audio story, WBEZ reporter Chip Mitchell talks to:

  • Zoheny Lugo, a married mother of two, who is trying to rebuild the middle-class life she and her family had in Venezuela;
  • Central Bank of Bogotá economist Andrea Otero, who argues that the Venezuelan influx has not hurt most Colombian workers;
  • María Clara Robayo, a researcher at Rosario University in Bogotá, who reports that Venezuelans who have been granted legalized status can still struggle to obtain the basics for living, such as a bank account;
  • David Delgado, a 54-year old father of five, who recycles for a living and earns just $8 a day.

What drove migrants from Venezuela: Since 2014, about 7.7 million Venezuelans have left their country to escape an economic collapse. Colombia has received more of these migrants than any other country.
How Venezuelan migrants cross into Colombia: Venezuelan migrants often lack passports to enter Colombia legally. So they cross on illegal foot trails controlled by criminal groups. As in the United States, border communities in Colombia are grappling with how to handle migrants.
The xenophobia Venezuelan migrants face: Colombia’s Venezuelan influx has led to accusations the migrants are fueling crime and drawing resources needed by low-income Colombians. This resembles some responses to Venezuelan arrivals in Chicago.
Integration in the face of marginalization: In Chicago, migrants are desperate for easier access to work authorization. Colombia shows how it can be done.

The Democracy Solutions Project is a collaboration among WBEZ, the Chicago Sun-Times and the University of Chicago’s Center for Effective Government, with funding support from the Pulitzer Center. Our goal is to help our community of listeners and readers engage with the democratic functions in their lives and cast an informed ballot in the November 2024 election.

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