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Tuesday 10 December 2019
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[UPDATED] CENTRAL BANK WRONG

Imbert rejects ‘unfortunate’ $600m migrant calculation

Acting Prime Minister Colm Imbert. Photo by Jeff K. Mayers
Acting Prime Minister Colm Imbert. Photo by Jeff K. Mayers

Acting Prime Minister Colm Imbert has rejected the Central Bank’s “unfortunate” calculations about the cost of the Venezuelan migrant crisis.

“I have absolutely no idea how the Central Bank arrived at that number. I don’t know how the figure was calculated. I don’t know the basis for the figure and I find the figure surprising, and we at the Ministry of Finance don’t agree,” Imbert, who is the Finance Minister, said at the post-Cabinet media briefing yesterday at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s.

On Tuesday, at the Financial Stability Report launch, Central Bank Governor Dr Alvin Hilaire said the bank estimated that it would cost the State $620 million to deal with the ongoing migrant crisis and it would be a "hit on the budget." Hilaire also said the bank supported any access to foreign aid to help mitigate the situation, including grants from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

The bank’s analysis was based on a comparison of Colombia’s situation and an old estimate from the UN that the number of Venezuelans fleeing economic and political upheaval in their home country was 40,000. Imbert dismissed any such analysis as comparing chalk and cheese.
“There’s no correlation between (TT and Colombia). It would have assumed we would provide housing, education, social services, healthcare, security, etc for 40,000 Venezuelans who would arrive in TT this year. What the Government is doing is allowing the Venezuelan migrants (who are already here) to work and have access to basic healthcare, not education, not public housing, not social services. So you can’t compare the TT situation with the Colombia situation.”

In Colombia, he said, the government has to provide a huge level of support to Venezuelan migrants. That is not going to happen here. “They are already working, renting apartment, etc. I want to stress the figures show the numbers in 2019 are very small, so therefore if there was any impact – and we don’t believe there is any – it would have occurred in 2018, 2017 and 2016 and cannot possibly impact the 2020 budget.”

He also challenged the idea that 40,000 Venezuelans would arrive in TT this year. Citing official statistics from the Chief Immigration Officer, he said from 2016 to date, the estimates were about 3,800 Venezuelans in TT legally, 9,000 who entered legally but overstayed and were now here illegally, and 12,000 registered with the UN High Commission for Refugees.

“When you think about it that is not 40,000 that have just arrived last week. They’ve been here for years so if there was an impact (on finances) it would have (already) been manifested within the national budget and within the economy of TT.

He added that TT would not need to accept international aid at this time to help with the crisis because the Government believed that it could handle the situation on its own and accepting foreign aid would be a foreign policy decision, since any aid would come with conditions.

In response to a query from Newsday, the Central Bank provided the document it used to make its assessment. In referencing the US$31.5 million granted to Colombia for the cost of hosting migrants, the Central Bank noted the World Bank considered that Venezuelan migrants and refugees were equivalent to 2.5 per cent of Colombia's population. This influx of migrants and refugees to Colombia put a severe strain on the country’s economy and social services such as health care.

Colombia's annual cost of hosting the migrants, not including infrastructure and facilities, is currently estimated at around 0.4 per cent of GDP, the Central Bank noted, adding that TT is facing a similar or even starker situation when considered on a per capita basis.

"Current estimates place the number of Venezuelan migrants residing in TT at a minimum of 40,000 people (or three per cent of the population). Applying the 0.4 per cent of GDP from Colombia’s experience (where in fact the migration experience is lower at 2.5 per cent of population) results in a conservatively estimated cost to host migrants in TT at roughly $620 million. This covers expenses related to the direct cost of social services, education, health, access to subsidies, housing facilities, security, and related ancillary infrastructure and services.

In this context and given the substantial humanitarian effort and likely financial costs of the Venezuelan migration situation, TT should make a strong case for accessing grant funding from the World Bank where it has been a member for 55 years as well as other non-debt creating facilities from international bodies." The Central Bank also noted that over time, the economic benefits of migration could gradually outweigh the initial financial costs.

Number of Venezuelans in TT (2016 to date)

Total arriving in TT through legal ports of entry and overstayed: 9,080
2017: 2,466
2018: 4,278
2019: 502

Venezuelans registered with UNHCR in TT: 12,257
2016: 26
2017: 1,099
2018: 7,062
2019: 4,090

Venezuelans here legally: 3,784
Venezuelans with work permits: 1,672
Permanent residents: 631
Granted citizenship: 1,481

Source: Ministry of National Security

This story was originally published with the title "Imbert rejects Central Bank figures on migrant crisis" and has been adjusted to include additional details. See original post below.

Acting Prime Minister Colm Imbert has rejected the Central Bank’s “unfortunate” calculations about the cost of the Venezuelan migrant crisis on the government.

“I have absolutely no idea how the Central Bank arrived at that number. I don’t know how the figure was calculated. I don’t know the basis for the figure and I find the figure surprising and we at the Ministry of Finance don’t agree,” Imbert said at the post-Cabinet media briefing today at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s.

Yesterday, at the Financial Stability Report Launch, Central Bank governor Dr Alvin Hilaire said the bank estimated that it would cost the State $620 million to deal with the ongoing migrant crisis.

The bank’s analysis, based on a comparison of Colombia’s situation and an old estimate from the UN that the number of Venezuelans fleeing economic and political upheaval in their home country was 40,000. Imbert dismissed any such analysis as comparing chalk and cheese.

Illegal Venezuelan migrants carry food items in Irwin Park Sporting Complex in Siparia.

“There’s no correlation between (TT and Colombia). It would have assumed we would provide housing, education, social services, healthcare, security, etc for 40,000 Venezuelans who would arrive in TT this year. What the Government is doing is allowing the Venezuelan migrants (who are already here) to work and access to basic healthcare, not education, not public housing, not social services. So you can’t compare the TT situation with the Colombia situation.”

He also challenged the idea that 40,000 Venezuelans would arrive in TT this year. Citing official statistics from the Chief Immigration Officer, he said from 2016 to date, the estimates were about 3,800 Venezuelans in TT legally, 9,000 who entered legally but overstayed and were now here illegally, and 12,000 registered with the UN High Commission for Refugees.

He added that TT would not need to accept international aid at this time to help with the crisis because the government believed that it could handle the situation on its own and accepting foreign aid would be a foreign policy decision since any aid would come with conditions.

Venezuelans head to customs at the port in Cedros on February 4. PHOTO BY LINCOLN HOLDER


Number of Venezuelans in TT (2016 to date)

Total arriving in TT through legal ports of entry and overstayed: 9,080

2017: 2,466

2018: 4,278

2019: 502

Venezuelans registered with UNHCR in TT: 12,257

2016: 26

2017: 1,099

2018: 7,062

2019: 4,090

Venezuelan migrant Yvolis Josefina Guevara, 31, carries clothes as she leaves the Irwin Park Sporting Complex in Siparia.
Photo: Lincoln Holder


  • Venezuelans here legally: 3,784
  • Venezuelans with work permits: 1,672
  • Permanent residents: 631
  • Granted citizenship: 1,481
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