The last time things in Venezuela were this unstable was back in the late 80s and early 90s, when the seed was being planted for Hugo Chavez’s eventual meteoric rise to power. The controversial leader implemented sweeping social reforms as part of the Bolivarian Revolution, which included, quite famously, nationalization of Venezuela’s oil industry and large welfare programs. From 2000, at beginning of Chavez’s first term, to 2006, the population of Venezuelans in the United States grew from 91,507 to 177,866, according to census data.
Much of that growth, of course, was concentrated in South Florida. Now, a new wave of political unrest in Venezuela is grabbing the attention of those involved in South Floridian immigration law.
Student protests have clashed with the government of President Nicolas Maduro, who was elected president last year in the wake of Chavez’s death. Since taking office, economic conditions in Venezuela have drastically deteriorated; the value of their currency has plummeted alongside shortages of goods. Protests in response mounted, and after government forces opened fire on a crowd, claiming the lives of four students, outrage was fueled even further. Just yesterday, Venezuela’s opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, was detained, standing accused by Maduro’s government of inciting violence.
Now, media outlets are reporting on demonstrations by Venezuelan’s living in South Florida. Lawmakers including Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have released public statements firmly supporting the opposition, accusing the Maduro-led government of corruption and incompetence. Complicating issues further, the Venezuelan government has placed restrictions on how much money Venezuelan tourists can spend in Florida, and dependent businesses are suffering because of it.
If the current political unrest and violent clashes continue to escalate, there is a real possibility that the U.S. government will have to open up immigration options for the Venezuelan community. Currently, there is no investor’s treaty between Venezuela and the United States. However, there may still be other options for Venezuelans to legally immigrate to the U.S. Among these are L-1a visas or what is commonly known as intra-company transfer visas and H1b visas. Both of these visas would allow Venezuelan nationals the opportunity to live and work in the U.S.
As the issue becomes increasingly complicated, we here at South Florida law firm Stok, Folk and Kon are paying close attention to the developments. The economy of South Florida goes hand in hand with the conditions in Latin America, making immigration law supremely important. As immigration lawyers in South Florida, we work to help integrate immigrants from places like Venezuela into our unique and diverse community.