Venezuela is currently going through a political, economic, social, institutional, and human rights crisis — causing millions of people to leave. This growing movement of people has created new situations leading to statelessness or putting people at risk of statelessness.
This is especially prevalent in one of Venezuela’s neighboring country, Colombia, which is the main destination (and transit) country for Venezuelan migrants and refugees. With nearly 1.3 million Venezuelans settled in Colombia, at least 24,000 children were born in the past four years to Venezuelan parents with no recognized nationality.
This is because Colombia is one of the few countries in the Americas that does not automatically grant birthright nationality to children born on its territory. According to Colombian legal and constitutional frameworks and the interpretations provided by Colombian authorities, a child born in Colombia to foreign parents can only obtain citizenship by demonstrating, through diplomatic certification, that the country where the child’s parents hold citizenship will not grant the child nationality or by proving at least one parent is domiciled in Colombia. Both pathways for children born in Colombia have proved to be incredibly difficult something that has been raised by civil society and experts.
Why children born to Venezuelan parents are at risk of statelessness?
Firstly, those seeking diplomatic certification from Venezuelan Consulates often don’t receive an answer. While children born outside Venezuela, to parents who are Venezuelan by birth, have a right to citizenship, the consulates are not mandated to follow a standard procedure for responding to petitions for registration and nationality. In addition, Venezuelan Consulates in Colombia are closed, which prevents parents from registering their child’s birth with the Venezuelan State.
Secondly, Colombia’s restrictive interpretation of “domicile” has significantly curtailed the right to a nationality for children born to Venezuelan parents, regardless of whether they have irregular migratory status or hold migratory permits. For a foreign parent to prove their domicile in Colombia, the individual must present a Colombian visa. Unfortunately, visas are difficult to obtain because the application process is both costly and requires a passport, which most Venezuelan migrants and refugees cannot access. In addition, the special temporary permit that the Colombian government created for Venezuelan migrants (PEP), does not allow for the establishment of a legal domicile.
Civil society has closely accompanied affected people by this issue, with a combination of litigation and strong advocacy strategies. Some of these efforts include litigation (two cases are currently pending final ruling before Colombia’s Constitutional Court) and advocacy concentrated aroud the Quito Process.
What has Colombia done so far?
On 20 August 2019, Colombia’s House of Representatives approved a bill that creates a unique citizenship exception for children born in Colombian territory to parents who have emigrated from Venezuela. Colombia’s Senate has also approved the bill, which now awaits the President’s sign off. The bill grants Colombian nationality to any child born in Colombia to Venezuelan parents between 1 January 2015 and up to two years after the enactment of the law.
The Bill’s language allows the Colombian State to presume the residency (and intention of permanency) of all Venezuelans in Colombia, regardless of their immigration status, including those whose children were born on Colombian territory within the applicable period. The Bill expanded upon the previous resolution approved by President Iván Duque on 5 August 2019 which had authorized citizenship for children born in Colombia to Venezuelan citizens between 19 August 2015 and 20 August 2021.
There are still more steps that Colombia should take, as the Bill is limited in scope by time and application (it only applies to children born to Venezuelan parents). The legal framework that causes statelessness in Colombia remains unchanged and it will continue to affect children born in Colombia to parents of other nationalities or those who lack a nationality. While Colombia has taken positive and significant steps, the government should also ensure the right to a nationality for all by opting for birthright nationality, rather than creating limited exceptions in times of crisis.
While there is still room for improvement, this is exceptionally good news for 24,000 children who were stateless or at risk of statelessness, and that is an immense victory which should be applauded and celebrated by everyone pushing for a change!