SOCORRO, Colombia – Coffee farmer Oscar Gamboa is increasingly relying on a new source of labor for his harvest in the rugged hills of northern Colombia: scruffy and starving refugees fleeing Venezuela’s economic collapse.
Many Colombians in the area don’t want to do the backbreaking work or have moved to the big cities. So while Venezuelan migrants are often unfairly disparaged as vagrants and thieves here and in other South American countries, they make significant economic contributions across the region, according to the International Monetary Fund, political groups. , the Colombian central bank and coffee producers like Mr. Gamboa. .
“We coffee growers thank God for the migrants,” Gamboa said, noting that about a third of his 85 coffee pickers come from neighboring Venezuela.
Fleeing food shortages and unemployment at home, nearly 2 million of the 5.4 million Venezuelans who have fled their country since 2015 have settled in Colombia. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken jobs that many Colombians avoid – from harvesting coffee to picking potatoes in the freezing Andes. Newcomers have also founded a myriad of small businesses.
To help them find paid employment as well as health care and education, the Colombian government this month unveiled a program to legalize nearly all of the country’s estimated 1 million undocumented Venezuelans, a move that garnered praise from the Biden administration, Pope Francis and the United Nations.