Published on Development for Peace

How to improve the integration of Venezuelan migrants and refugees in Brazil

This page in:
Refugiada venezuelana segurando a filha. Foto: Michael John Swan/CC BY-ND 2.0 Refugiada venezuelana segurando a filha. Foto: Michael John Swan/CC BY-ND 2.0

In Venezuela, Yulimar was an audio-visual technician for a local television company.  In 2019, when her economic situation became dire, she migrated to Brazil with her husband and daughter looking for food, work and education.  Now, she dedicates herself to taking Portuguese lessons and making and selling dolls and other handicrafts to earn a living.  Yulimar, who gave this personal account in an interview with the Salvation Army, is illustrative of those of many of the 261,00 Venezuelan migrants, asylum seekers, or refugees now living in Brazil.  This number accounts for 18% of Brazil’s 1.3 million migrant and refugee population—Brazil’s largest. She and others have come to Brazil looking for a better life as they leave behind Venezuela’s worsening economic and social crisis. The numbers attest to a stark reality: In 2018, 89% of the population in Venezuela was estimated to be living in poverty; the average Venezuelan had lost 22 pounds due to food insecurity; and infant mortality was 26 per 1000 live births in 2016 compared to 14.6 per 1000 births in 2010.  

But adapting to a new society and culture can be very challenging from an economic, social and educational perspective . Learning a new language also presents ongoing challenges. Nevertheless, the integration of migrants and refugees in their host countries is crucial to becoming self-reliant and productive citizens .

So, how are the Venezuelan migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees doing in Brazil? In a new study, we examine this question by measuring the extent of their integration in Brazil and exploring some of the drivers of and barriers to integration. It is the first study that looks at the challenges facing displaced Venezuelans in accessing social protection programs and education in Brazil —a country that provides universal access to education, health care and social protection irrespective of legal status.    


Fraction of those receiving Bolsa Familia by income brackets, education and nationality

Fraction of those receiving Bolsa Familia by income brackets, education and nationality


By analyzing a variety of administrative and census data, our research found that despite having few legal barriers, Venezuelans are facing challenges in accessing education, formal jobs and social protection . The study found that Venezuelan migrants and refugees face downgrading in grade level at school, as well as work occupations. They are also more likely to attend overcrowded schools compared to their host community counterparts and are more likely to do inferior jobs characterized by temporary work, lower wages and longer hours. 

Some of the findings:

Overall, the results suggest that improving school capacity, accrediting Venezuelan education or degrees and relocating migrants to places with favorable employment opportunities may facilitate further integration 

Going forward, policy efforts can be strengthened by:

  • Facilitating the credential and skill verification and validation process.  This will lessen downgrading in both schools and the formal labor market. 
  • Strengthening voluntary relocation to areas within Brazil that have more job opportunities. The federal government, along with UNHCR and civil society have been implementing a program like this since 2018 (“Operação Acolhida”)
  • Providing language training to help children enroll in school at the grade commensurate with their age and promoting marketability of Venezuelan adults. 
  • Developing employment services that use community outreach and specialized counselors to find employment where language or specific skill sets are less of a factor.
  • Increasing the capacity of schools by having different schedules to reduce overcrowding. 
  • Designing stronger labor market activation programs to include job intermediation and skills and language training. 
  • Continuing provision of information assistance for documents issuances and enrollment to education, health and social assistance services and benefits and to inform Venezuelan migrants and refugees of their basic human rights and guarantee access.

The influx of Venezuelan migrants and refugees into Brazil is both a humanitarian crisis and a development challenge.  This research brings more evidence to help policy makers and development and humanitarian agencies improve the design of existing programs to provide greater economic and social inclusion for Venezuelans in their host community. 

This work is part of the program "Building the Evidence on Forced Displacement: A Multi-Stakeholder Partnership''. The program is funded by UK aid from the United Kingdom's Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO). It is managed by the World Bank Group (WBG) and was established in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  

Photo license: 

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000