What is the Venezuelan Refugee Assistance Act?


WASHINGTON, D.C. — Currently, the situation in Venezuela is extreme, with hunger being prominent throughout the entire country. The Venezuelan Refugee Assistance Act, or H.R. 2161, is a bill that orders the adjustment of immigration status for certain nationals who currently reside in the United States. The goal is to make sure that these individuals do not get deported so that they don’t have to endure the critical ongoing situation in their home country.

Introduced on April 26 by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL-26), this legislation comes at a crucial time. Venezuela used to be the richest country in Latin America, but because of price and currency controls, it has struggled to meet financial obligations.

H.R. 2161 outlines specific credentials needed in order to apply for the benefits of the bill. The Immigration and Nationality Act is the basis for this legislation and provides definitions for qualifications, such as establishing a physical presence in the U.S. for a year.

If a Venezuelan refugee is being deported because of authorization from the Immigration and Nationality Act, that specific individual can apply for adjustment of status under the Venezuelan Refugee Assistance Act. If the Secretary of Homeland Security approves the application, it will overturn the order of removal.

In order to qualify for the Venezuelan Refugee Assistance Act, one must have been present in the United States on January 1, 2013. Immigrants are allowed to be absent from the country but for no longer than 180 days overall.

This bill eventually expires, as all applications must be submitted before January 1, 2021. Any person involved in persecution of any kind in Venezuela is not eligible, nor is anybody who has broken a state or federal law that mandates more than a year of imprisonment in the U.S.

While refugees wait for their applications to be processed, they are allowed to obtain work status in the U.S. If their request hasn’t been denied in the maximum 180 days of eligibility, they are automatically granted the right to maintain or seek employment.

Any spouse, child or unmarried offspring of a person whose status is adjusted under the Venezuelan Refugee Assistance Act is granted lawful permanent residence. If a refugee meets requirements under this bill, all grounds for exclusion in the Immigration and Nationality Act become void.

When the Secretary of Homeland Security grants permanent residency, the status of that Venezuelan immigrant cannot be overturned by any court. In addition, any approval of status given under the Venezuelan Refugee Assistance Act will not count towards the maximum amount of immigration visas allowed under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Bills such as this are effective at promoting support for the U.S. because they show a willingness to protect individuals from danger in their home countries. This act helps give refugees a path to permanent residence and has been proposed two separate years. With the Syrian crisis also occurring, legislation like this is critical because it enables continued support for those escaping conflict.

This bill allows Venezuelan refugees to apply for permanent residency even if they are eligible for deportation. With the country experiencing extreme hunger and protests, this bill makes sure that individuals do not have to return to a dire situation.

Nick Katsos

Photo: Flickr


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