An SOS for help has gone out to law enforcement from a group of Venezuelans who came before the recent registration exercise but did not get the opportunity to register and who are now allegedly being “kept” by people they are working for.
That problem, plus job scams, sexual advances on job interviews and other issues are among some of the experiences Venezuelan migrants have encountered since Government’s registration exercise ended on June 14—a month today.
Members of several Venezuelan community networks related experiences to the Sunday Guardian as Venezuelans continue settling in and awaiting their registration cards.
Last Thursday, National Security Minister Stuart Young said cards being printed should be distributed in a few weeks. He said registration forms had provided a wealth of information and authorities were now tracking problems, including trafficking. But for those in T&T who did not register, authorities would not have information on certain problems affecting them.
Interpreter Aracelie D’Olivera, part of various groups assisting migrants, has, however, been getting information beyond what is on forms. She said she received a message early last week from a Venezuelan man who sought help. He said he came to T&T prior to the registration but did not get to register and he and 25 others were now working for employers in the East-West corridor (locations given) and were now allegedly being “held hostage” to ensure they worked off payment for the trip.
The man told D’Olivera he came here illegally with about 25 others.
They thought they were being brought for the registration, “But “we were fooled,” he said. He said his employers operated with other Venezuelans, but they were demanding payment for the trip and some of his colleagues had worked off payment up to $900 so far.
D’Olivera said: “He said they’re working 12-15 hours daily but want to return to Venezuela even if they starve. They begged for authorities to be told since they feel endangered. I sent the information to police (last) Wednesday.”
Yesterday, a police spokesman told the Sunday Guardian they were checking into the situation.
D’Olivera said she also received information from three women last week that when they went for job interviews they were instead approached for sex. Information regarding a prostitution ring was received as well.
“But Venezuelans’ main problem is the job market getting smaller as many more are job-hunting,” D’Olivera said.
“Those who don’t know how to do anything and can’t speak English are most affected. One good thing is there’s much assistance with free medical help—up to last Thursday in St James—and education. We also told people about the US medical ship coming in September and many are going there for attention.”
Job scams rampant
Arima-based, Venezuelan-born activist Audrina Brown documents issues affecting Venezuelans and advises them on matters. She’s assisted people in the food trade, advertising, animal husbandry and travel services.
She told the Sunday Guardian issues in the job market were many for Venezuelans.
“While there’s more reception to them, issues are still cropping up. At an East Trinidad job site, some people didn’t want the Venezuelans working there,” she said.
The most perturbing case, she noted, involved a Venezuelan doctor who was seeking work. She said after the registration he’d told her he read a story in the T&T Guardian three weeks ago about getting health sector jobs. He immediately went to the Ministry in Port-of-Spain to seek one. However, he was told there was no information on that.
“He told us someone later called to tell him they could place him in a health job, they had connections with Immigration and Health, but he had to pay them his first salary. We told him it appeared to be a scam. He’s now providing medical services for Venezuelans but we intend to go to the Medical Board with him to see if he can register to officially work in his field or help the community somehow.”
Yesterday, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh reiterated that the ministry was not providing health sector jobs for Venezuelans. He referred the scam issues to Young. Efforts to contact Young were unsuccessful as he did not respond to calls.
Brown added: “We also have reports of people being asked to pay $200 out of their salary when certain East Trinidad jobs are found for them. We advise people on not paying to get jobs, proper recruiting procedure and things like union dues reductions as opposed to scam artists.
“Also, some people are concerned about having to work very long hours and getting less pay. Employers may not always be concerned about losing an employee, as they may feel it may be easy to get others. Also, since a woman was recently raped while going to a job interview, we advise people not to go on interviews by themselves and have clear directions.”
More $ for degreed workers
Port-of-Spain-based Venezuelan community activist Heidi Diquez says everyone was waiting for the registration cards to materialise, although employers were accepting the registration slip given to applicants in the interim.
“However, there needs to be a wake-up call to employers not to exploit workers, since we have reports of people having to work long hours, Sunday to Sunday, especially in construction. No Venezuelan is going to complain for fear of losing the work and that’s an advantage for employers but it also carries a social responsibility for them not to exploit that,” she said.
In some cases, she added, employers should also acknowledge—and properly compensate—those highly qualified, bilingual workers.
Diquez said many skilled people with degrees were being paid minimum wage.
“This includes private sector nurses and in other areas. If people don’t have an edge, pay them minimum wage, but where in the world will you get a bilingual person with skills/degrees being paid minimum wage? We hope this changes,” Diquez said.
“We have a lot of professionals in our database—teachers, nurses, doctors—so we hope they can move from the areas they’re in now to their true fields. The Cubans who work here are like the Venezuelans, there should be some flexibility to allow Venezuelan doctors to also work in the field.”
Visa issues for hundreds
Venezuelan-born, T&T-based activist Monica Joseph says while some applicants were slightly worried about a lack of registration cards, they’ve gotten jobs and employers are hiring.
“There’s a sense of gratitude but also concerns about lack of lines of communication on the registration card,” she said.
But the bigger concern remains T&T’s visa process for Venezuelans.
National Security Minister Stuart Young has said it was in train and some people were getting visas, but there is little detail on its workings.
Joseph said notices were issued for the process on June 29 and information also given out in Venezuela gave the visa cost as TT$400.
“Requirements are very detailed and some questions on the form are strange, they don’t show an understanding of how Venezuelans live,” she said.
Joseph’s grandmother, aunt and cousin have been applying for visas to attend her sister’s wedding in T&T ahead.
“It’s like the US visa system, if you don’t get the visa, there’s no refund of your payment. You also need a bank account for more than two years, a certain amount of money and a reserved ticket. Most airlines don’t reserve tickets so you have to buy one and if you buy that and you don’t get the visa, you lose not only the visa payment but also the ticket cost,” Joseph explained.
Several Venezuelan friends of hers who have residency applications for T&T pending and who were in other countries, seeking to return to T&T, have felt the “sting” of the process. Joseph said there was no grace period for start-up and those returning T&T were stymied.
One friend, who has a residency application for T&T ongoing, was in Colombia for chemotherapy and had sought to return to T&T but couldn’t, she said.
“She had to buy a ticket for Venezuela to apply for a visa there to come to T&T even though she had a residency application for T&T,” Joseph said.
“A second friend, who also has a T&T residency application pending, went to Peru and got stuck there. She went to the T&T consulate for help but she’s being referred to T&T’s Caracas embassy—for a visa.”
A third friend who’s married to a Trinidadian and has had a T&T residency application pending for 15 years arrived in T&T on the Monday after the visa requirement was announced.
“Immigration halted her and said application or not, she needed a visa and they were going to deport her.”
Diquez said passports may also strain Venezuelans’ resources.
“Passports are selling at (US)$500. Regular people can’t afford that so when they desperately need to get food, medicine or a job to make a little money, they’ll continue coming through illegal ports.”