Least Protected, Most Affected: Impacts of Migration Regularization Programs on Pandemic Resilience

Maria José Urbina, Sandra V. Rozo, Andrés Moya, and Ana María Ibáñez

AEA Papers and Proceedings, Volume 113 (2023), Pages 347-51 



This article examines the effect of regularization of Venezuelan migrants in Colombia on their resilience during the COVID pandemic. Colombia hosts 2.5 million migrants who fled the economic, political, and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. 

The Permiso Especial de Permanencia (PEP) is a regularization program offered by the Colombian government in 2018 to facilitate the integration of Venezuelan migrants. It granted legal migratory status, access to education and health services, eligibility for social programs, job permits, and an identification card to access private services for a period of two years. 

The authors draw on data from two waves of the Venezuelan Refugees Panel Survey (VenRePS) from 2020 and 2021. The baseline sample covers 2,232 Venezuelan households who arrived in Colombia between January 1, 2017 and December 2018, including 1,135 households registered in the RAMV (Registro Administrativo de Migrantes Venezolanos) and eligible for the PEP, and 1,097 irregular households. The sample is representative of the three cities in Colombia that host the largest share of Venezuelan migrants (Barranquilla, Bogotá, and Medellín) and a fourth “region” that aggregates smaller cities. The second wave of the sample covered 1,432 households. 

The authors employ an intent-to-treat (ITT) model, comparing the outcomes of migrants who were eligible for the PEP regularization program (RAMV migrants) with those who were not eligible (non-RAMV migrants). The authors consider the impact of regularization on four dimensions of resilience during the pandemic: (1) capacity to adhere to non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs); (2) access to medical services when required; (3) protection and detection against COVID-19; and (4) resilience to the economic impacts of the pandemic. 

Main results: 

  • Eligible PEP applicants had better housing conditions, which facilitated adherence to non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) such as social distancing and hand washing. Adherence to NPI was higher for PEP-eligible migrants compared to ineligible migrants. PEP-eligible migrants had less crowded homes and were more likely to have private bathrooms, which may have helped them to social distance, wash hands, and enabled better sanitary conditions that helped to prevent transmission of the virus.  
  • PEP increased access to health services, including health insurance, medical assistance, and prescriptions, resulting in higher detection and vaccination rates for COVID-19. PEP-eligible household heads had a higher probability of reporting COVID-19 symptoms compared to non-eligible households, and family members of PEP-eligible households had a higher probability of contracting the virus compared to non-eligible household members. PEP-eligible households also had higher vaccination rates relative compared to non-eligible households. 
  • PEP-eligible migrants were more resilient to the negative economic impacts of the pandemic. PEP-eligible migrants were less likely to skip meals, more likely to eat proteins and less likely to be evicted, due to higher employment rates, labor income, and access to monetary transfers and bank accounts. 

The authors conclude that the PEP regularization program had positive impacts on the resilience of Venezuelan migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic. The PEP regularization program led to better housing conditions, increased access to healthcare services, and greater resilience to the negative economic impacts of the pandemic, which ameliorated the pandemic’s adverse effects on both migrants and the local population.