Venezuelans swarm outside Chilean consulate seeking new visa

Venezuelans push and shove outside the Chilean consulate seeking information on how to get a new visa to live in Chile

Hundreds of Venezuelans swarmed outside the Chilean consulate Monday hoping to get a new visa created by Santiago to offer a new home for people desperate to leave the crisis-wracked country.

As the consulate is closed on Mondays, the crowd of some 400 jostled to read a small board with instructions for obtaining the visa announced last week by conservative President Sebastian Pinera.

"Don't push! We are all Venezuelans," somebody in the crowd yelled.

The bulletin board referred people to the website of the Chilean Foreign Ministry, as applications for the new visa are handled online.

Venezuelans are already allowed to travel to Chile and once there apply for work and residency permits. The new, so-called "democratic responsibility" visa is designed to speed things up by letting people handle the red tape before leaving for Chile.

Venezuelans have been enduring an economic crisis marked by shortages of food, medicine and such basics as soap and toilet paper. Inflation this year is forecast to hit a staggering 13,000 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Between 400,000 and half a million Venezuelans have left their oil-rich and once prosperous country over the past two years, said Tomas Paez, a sociologist specializing in migration issues.

The new visas are good for a year and can be renewed once, as well as allow fleeing Venezuelans to apply for permanent residency.