The alarming magnitude of forced migrant flows, which reached at least 84 million people by mid-2021, has opened a strong debate on how to effectively support displaced populations. Often times host government decisions are based on popular beliefs about the possible impacts of refugee’s economic integration. For example, politicians who observe the sharp increments in xenophobia and resentment towards migrants from the general public could be frightened that the electorate will punish them and their parties if they have a political platform that is more favorable towards migrants.This research project aims to inform this debate by examining the effects of a large-scale regularization program, the Permiso Especial de Permanencia (PEP), which granted working rights and access to safety nets to nearly 281,000 Venezuelan refugees in Colombia in August 2018.
For this purpose, mayoral electoral results are compared between municipalities with higher and lower program take-up rates, before and after the program roll-out in 2018. The regularization had negligible impacts in electoral outcomes, attitudes towards migrants. Mover over, since PEP is a national policy, we found empirical evidence that supports that the electorate did not change their political behavior in the presidential elections. The analysis is also enriched by exploiting the Survey of Political Culture -a unique and novel survey collected in 2019- by the Dane, the Colombian statistics agency, in order to characterize attitudes towards migrants and prosocial behaviors in Colombia. Given there is only one wave of the survey, the data only enabled the exploration of correlations between the PEP program take-up rates and social capital outcomes. The analysis, of this data, confirms that the correlation between the PEP take-up rates and social capital outcomes as well as attitudes towards migrants is close to zero.
How can local communities show no response to the regularization program in their voting behaviors, attitudes towards migrants, and prosocial behaviors? There are multiple potential explanations. For example, it is possible that voters do not follow closely the policies that regulate refugee’s labor rights. In fact, internet searches of residence and work permits granted by the Colombian government to Venezuelan refugees are search terms that Colombians do not use often (Santamaria, 2020). It is also feasible that the effect of immigration on Colombians voting behaviors is predominantly driven by voter’s concern on the overall economic impacts of migrants when they first arrive, as shown by Rozo and Vargas (2021), but not by subsequent policies that support them. If this is the case, voters will not be concerned about the effects of those refugees who are already in Colombia and changed their labor right status with the regularization program.
To test the mechanisms behind the negligible effects of the PEP program, we survey 1040 Colombian adults residents of Bogotá on their knowledge of the regularization pro- gram, voting behaviors and attitudes toward the refugee population. The survey will also include Survey-experiment to assess the effect of having information on the PEP program: half of the individuals will be randomly allocated to an information experiment in which they will be informed about the PEP regularization program and subsequently we will monitor the effects of receiving these information on their voting intentions and attitudes towards Venezuelan outcomes.