Integration of Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants in Brazil

Mrittika Shamsuddin, Pablo Ariel Acosta, Rovane Battaglin Schwengber, Jedediah Fix, and Nikolas Pirani

World Bank Policy Research Working Paper Series, No. 9605 (2021)


Brazil is hosting over 260,000 Venezuelans as of the second quarter of 2020. The majority of Venezuelan refugees and migrants enter and settle in the northern localities of Roraima (50 percent) and Amazonas (19 percent) bordering Venezuela. Brazil’s legal framework provides for universal access to education, healthcare and social protection irrespective of documentation status and prohibits any kind of discrimination at work.

This paper examines the extent to which Venezuelan refugees and migrants are integrated into the education sector, formal labor market and social protection sector in Brazil and how different economic and social factors accelerate or hinder the process of integration. Integration is measured as a ratio between the outcomes for Venezuelans compared to those for Brazilians, specifically:

  • Integration in the education sector is measures as the relative probability of Venezuelans, aged 4-17, being enrolled in school compared to their Brazilian counterparts.
  • Integration in the formal labor market is measured as the relative probability of Venezuelans, aged 15-64, being employed in the formal labor market compared to their Brazilian counterparts.
  • Integration in the social protection sector is measured as the relative probability of Venezuelans registering in the Unified Registry of Social Programs (Cadastro Unico), a database that collects details about low-income families in Brazil, compared to their Brazilian counterparts, and the relative probability of registered Venezuelans being beneficiaries of the Bolsa Familia (PBF), the flagship conditional cash transfer program for the poor, compared to their Brazilian counterparts.

The analysis is based on: (a) education data from the 2019 and 2020 School Census; (b) labor market data from the 2019 Annual Report on Social Information (RAIS); (c) social assistance data from the Cadastro Unico; and (d) population data from the National Migration Registry System (SISMIGRA) and International Traffic System (STI-MAR) for Venezuelans and from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics Foundation’s (IBGE) population estimation counts for Brazilians.

These data provide the following descriptive statistics and insights into the factors that promote or hinder integration of Venezuelans:

  • Demotion to a lower grade and shortages of Spanish speaking teachers are major obstacles for Venezuelans to access education. Only about 3 percent of teachers in Roraima and Amazonas schools with Venezuelan children are proficient in Spanish, which might be a major deterrent for Venezuelan children, who understand little or no Portuguese. A higher proportion of Venezuelans (68 percent) are attending classes that are below the grades consistent with their age compared to the Brazilian cohort (53 percent).
  • Venezuelans work longer hours and in more contact-based jobs than Brazilians even though they are on average better educated, and they are more likely to be occupationally downgraded. 86 percent of Venezuelans work in jobs for which they are overqualified, compared to 72 percent of Brazilians, suggesting that occupational downgrading is more prevalent among Venezuelans.
  • Venezuelans who register in the Cadastro Unico are poorer but more educated than their Brazilian counterparts. Average income of registered Venezuelans is R$85, while that of Brazilians is R$307. 72 percent of registered Venezuelans live in extreme poverty with an income less than R$89, while 48 percent of registered Brazilians have an income less than R$89. Registered Venezuelans are also more educated with 27 percent having some tertiary education compared to 3 percent of registered Brazilians having tertiary education. 20 percent of Brazilians in Cadastro Unico have high school degrees compared to 42 percent of Venezuelans.


Empirical results:

  • Venezuelans are less likely to be enrolled in school. Venezuelan children are 0.47 times as likely to be enrolled in school compared to Brazilian children. However, the extent of integration varies across states. In Roraima, which hosts the highest number of Venezuelans, Venezuelans are 0.25 times as likely to enroll in school compared to Brazilian children. Overall, integration in the education sector appears to be higher in provinces that have fewer Venezuelan residents. Congestion, language barriers and mismatch of age and grade attainment are the main impediments for Venezuelan refugees and migrants children to integrate in schools.
  • Venezuelans are less likely to be employed in the formal sector. Venezuelans are 0.36 times as likely to be employed in the formal sector compared to their Brazilian counterparts. The level of integration varies across states. For example, in Roraima, which has the highest concentration of Venezuelan formal workers, Venezuelans are 0.08 times as likely as Brazilians to be a formal worker. Integration is higher in states that have greater job opportunities like Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais. It also seems to be harder for women to access formal sector jobs, suggesting women face additional constraints entering the formal labor market. Occupational downgrading is the main barrier for working age Venezuelan refugees and migrants to access the formal labor market.
  • Venezuelans are less likely to be registered in the Cadastro Unico. Venezuelans are 0.7 times as likely to be registered in the Cadastro Unico compared to their Brazilian counterparts, which suggests that many Venezuelan refugees and migrants may not be aware of their rights to assistance. Venezuelans who register for access to social protection programs are also poorer than their Brazilian counterparts.
  • Overall, integration seems to be higher where the population of Venezuelan migrants and refugees is lower. Concentration in certain localities like Roraima seem to be creating an overcrowding effect that constrains integration.

Based on their findings, the authors recommend several policy actions, including:

  • Facilitate the process of credential and skill verification and validation, which could reduce downgrading in both schools and the formal labor market.
  • Building on existing government and UNHCR relocation programs, expand voluntary relocation to areas within Brazil that have more job opportunities.
  • Provide language training to help children to enroll in school at the grade commensurate with their age and also to promote employability of Venezuelan adults.
  • Develop labor intermediation services focusing on language training, Venezuelan community outreach and specialized counselors, who can identify employers looking for particular skills or jobs where Portuguese proficiency is less important.
  • Increase capacity of schools by introducing different shifts to reduce overcrowding.
  • Strengthen labor market activation programs to include job intermediation and skills and language training to help overcome search barriers and matching friction.
  • Continue provision of information assistance for identity documents and enrollment in education, health and social assistance services and benefits and inform Venezuelan refugees and migrants of their rights.