Decent Work for Displaced People: Lessons from the Experiences of Venezuelan Migrant and Refugee Workers in Colombia and Brazil

International Labour Organization Research Brief

25 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2024

See all articles by Jennifer Gordon

Jennifer Gordon

Fordham University School of Law

Date Written: January 15, 2024


This paper explores lessons from the mass migration of Venezuelans for efforts to advance decent work for migrants and refugees. Over the past decade, 7.7 million Venezuelans have fled their home country--the world’s largest modern movement of human beings across borders, surpassing both Ukrainian and Syrian refugees. Most live elsewhere in Latin America and the Caribbean. Although the response has been mixed, many host governments in the region have offered Venezuelans temporary legal status. Colombia and Brazil, for example, have now granted residence permits to almost all Venezuelan migrants and refugees, including the right to work and rights as workers. But how much difference does a work permit make in an economy that is substantially informal even for local workers? Reviewing the literature to date, the paper concludes that although the permits have brought meaningful benefits, many Venezuelans still labor under considerably worse conditions than their local counterparts. It then turns to the question of how to address this gap. To improve migrant and refugee working conditions in Colombia and Brazil, it argues, will require efforts to enforce workplace rights and increase worker representation at the bottom of the labor market, including in the informal economy. Almost a decade into the diaspora, some displaced Venezuelans are coming together to this end, with the support of civil society, trade unions, and their own associations. The paper presents case studies of emerging Venezuelan worker organizing efforts in Colombia and Brazil. It concludes that support for such initiatives is an essential part of a policy that seeks to incorporate migrants and refugees in host labor markets on decent work terms, both for the newcomers and for the local workers alongside whom they labor.

Keywords: Migrant, refugee, Venezuela, decent work, immigration, migrant worker

JEL Classification: F22, J46, J48, J61, J81, J83

Suggested Citation

Gordon, Jennifer, Decent Work for Displaced People: Lessons from the Experiences of Venezuelan Migrant and Refugee Workers in Colombia and Brazil (January 15, 2024). International Labour Organization Research Brief, Available at SSRN:

Jennifer Gordon (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

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