Harrison Mantas

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Red tape, chaos in Venezuela prevent ‘brain drain’ from aiding Peru

LIMA, Peru – Venezuela’s “brain drain” could have benefits for Peru, which has absorbed more than 700,000 Venezuelan immigrants over the past three years and suffers a serious shortage of medical professionals.

But difficulties navigating the recredentialing process have prevented many Venezuelan doctors from using their skills in their new home.

Dr. Jaime Para, 37, was a gynecologist in Venezuela who had both public and private practices, and worked as an instructor at the medical college at the University of Carobobo.

“My life wasn’t opulent. I use to have a lot of work to live more or less in a good standard,” said Para, who was among the throng fleeing Venezuela’s economic, social, and political decline.

He applied that same work ethic when he arrived in Lima 10 months ago, selling chicha morada (a Peruvian soft drink) and hot chocolate on the streets.

Para has a temporary residency permit that, until it was discontinued last November, allowed 495,000 Venezuelans to work legally in Peru. Para has since moved on from street selling, but the one job he really wants, medical doctor, remains out of reach.

Venezuelan professionals have to go through a three-step process to get licensed in Peru. Step 1 is receiving the temporary residency permit, commonly referred to as a PTP. Step 2 involves getting your degree recognized by the SUNEDU, a government agency that verifies foreign credentials. Those who were certified as Integral Community Doctors in Venezuela must take additional education to meet Peruvian standards. Step 3 is to pass the credentialing exam at the corresponding professional college, in this case the Colegio Médico del Perú.

Para is stuck on Step 2.

To verify his degree, he needs an apostille, a notarized certificate of authenticity from his medical school in Venezuela. Unfortunately for Para, that would involve either mailing his degree back to Venezuela or returning in person to get it notarized, which would take time and money. Para and other doctors said they often have to pay bribes to obtain necessary paperwork. For now, Para gets by working as a nutrition consultant at a gym.

“I’m not afraid of working, OK? But it’s a little bit frustrating (when) you cannot work everything you got prepared for,” Para said.

[mediumimage-slim source=”https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/7.1_JAIME_DOCTORS-1200.jpg” caption=”Dr. Jaime Para explains his difficulties getting an apostille for his degree, so he can practice medicine in Peru. ‘I just want to demonstrate what I know,’ Para said. (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite Borderlands Project)”]

About 700,000 Venezuelans have resettled in Peru since 2015, according to U.S. State Department and Peruvian officials. For the most part, Peru has welcomed the Venezuelans, and the country of 32 million could use the skills of expat doctors, nurses and other medical professionals.

A 2018 report from the Peruvian Ministry of Health found that Peru faces a deficit of 16,630 medical specialists and 6,000 general practitioners. Additionally, many doctors trained in Peru often take jobs in foreign countries, further depleting the national workforce.

As in the United States, medical resources in Peru are more concentrated in cities, while rural areas struggle. Peru requires all doctors wishing to practice in the public sector to spend a year in the Rural and Urban Marginal Health Service, or SERUM, which sends doctors to underserved communities, but recent controversies over participant safety and calls from the Medical College to end the program have called it into question

Unión Venezolana en Perú, a non-governmental organization supporting Venzuelan migrants in the country, wants to be part of the solution. Its leaders cite statistics that show roughly 430,000 of the Venezuelans in Peru have some form of professional education. Under a program they are spearheading called Asimilación Productivo, or Productive Assimilation, the union would coordinate with the government to relocate these professionals to regions where the need is greatest.

[mediumimage-slim source=”https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/2_UNION_DOCTORS-1200.jpg” caption=”The Unión Venezolana en Perú has been the defacto embassy for Venezuelans, helping migrants with everything from work permits, to enrolling children in school, to counseling services. (Photo by Paulina Verbera/Cronkite Borderlands Project)”]

Nancy Arellano, the program’s coordinator, said it was born of a response to a growing anti-immigrant sentiment in Lima, Peru’s capital. Arellano hopes to show that Venezuelans are not a burden and can contribute to Peruvian society.

An estimated 85% of the Venezuelan migrant population lives in and around Lima. So far, the union has registered 30,000 professionals, 81% of whom have expressed interest in relocating outside Lima.

The union also has worked with SUNEDU to reduce the cost of revalidating credentials to $100 from roughly $200.

Arellano points out that roughly 70 percent of Peru’s economy is informal, meaning workers get paid in cash and usually pay no taxes. She argues that bringing these professionals into the fold will increase Peru’s tax base and reduce competition for low skilled work.

Dr. Jose Borregales Contreras is ready to help his new country. The 62-year-old obstetrician and gynecologist left Venezuela when it became difficult to find medication for his diabetes. He came to Lima to live with his two adult sons but sees his future outside the capital.

“The problem is that the concentration of people is always in Lima but the provinces are deprived. We Venezuelans want to go to the provinces to cover the deficit,” Borregales said.

Borregales has had his degree validated but hasn’t gotten a license less. Last February, only seven of the 127 doctors who took the medical college’s licensing exam passed; he was one of the 120 who did not.

Borregales survives with support from his sons and by performing ultrasounds for a handful of Venezuelan patients. He says he earns about $600 a month but could make three times that much if he were licensed.