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BOGOTA, Colombia, Thurs. Jan. 30, 2020 (Reuters): Colombia will allow hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants to legalize their presence in the country through work permits meant to bring them into the legal economy, the government said on Wednesday.

Colombia is the principal destination for Venezuelan migrants fleeing from political, social and economic crisis under the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

Unlike its neighbors, Colombia has not imposed stringent immigration requirements on Venezuelans, and 1.6 million now live in the country. The United Nations said last year the figure could rise to 2.4 million by the end of 2020.

The first permit is a renewal of the so-called PEP visa, which was previously used by the government to give legal status to migrants. It could benefit some 200,000 Venezuelans who entered the Andean country before Nov. 29 last year, the migration agency said in a statement.

The second measure, known by its Spanish initials as the PEPFF visa, will be granted to Venezuelans who have formal job offers, the agency said. It will take force in a few days, it added.

The permits are meant to help the government identify Venezuelans residing in Colombia and bring them into the legal economy, in a bid to reduce spending pressures on Colombia, which has committed to providing basic services like healthcare and school places to migrants.

Last August, President Ivan Duque said Colombia would give citizenship to 24,000 children born to Venezuelan migrant parents in Colombia, to prevent them from being stateless and less able to access education and healthcare.

During a visit last week by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Duque called on the international community to mobilize greater resources and efforts to help with the crisis.

Managing the crisis will require $1.35 billion this year to meet migrants’ basic needs in 17 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that are sheltering them, according to the United Nations.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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