Upon establishing an independent nation in 1830, Venezuelans instituted a policy of populating their nation with European immigrants. Immigration laws of 1831, 1837, and 1840 authorized the national government to subsidize the relocation of European agricultural workers to Venezuela. But despite efforts to recruit immigrants throughout Europe, few came. Between 1832 and 1845, only 12,610 persons immigrated to Venezuela. The majority of these came from the Canary Islands, a traditional source of Venezuelan immigrants.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, Venezuelan governments continued to try, without success, to attract white European immigrants. In part, they desired laborers for the rural areas, but increasingly they sought immigrants to "whiten" the multiracial populace. The desire to whiten the population not only led to an increased demand for European immigrants but also contributed to legislation that excluded nonwhites from immigrating to Venezuela. In 1855, the National Congress defeated a proposal to pay contractors to bring Chinese workers to Venezuela. On 20 July 1891, a new immigration code prohibited the immigration of blacks and Asians.
The new code failed to achieve its desired results for two reasons. First, whites did not flock to Venezuela. Second, blacks from the Antilles did come, either illegally or by obtaining temporary work permits. By 1898, some 5,000 to 7,000 blacks had entered the Guayana and Orinoco regions from nearby Trinidad and British Guiana. East Indians fled to eastern Venezuela to escape from indentured servitude in nearby Trinidad.
During the administration of Juan Vicente Gómez (1908–1935), attempts to encourage massive immigration from Europe met with little success. Corruption and poor economic conditions in Venezuela before the petroleum boom meant that the opportunities for social mobility found in other countries, such as the United States, Argentina, and Brazil, did not exist. Gómez further complicated matters by his distrust of foreigners, especially non-Catholic, non-Spanish-speaking individuals, whose culture and intentions he did not understand. His xenophobia, and that of his followers, offset any immigration his administration sponsored.
On 15 September 1938, a presidential decree established the Technical Institute of Immigration and Colonization as a department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. Its primary objectives included implementation of a rural development program, the settlement of immigrants in rural districts, and the "ethnic improvement of the country's population."
A large influx of immigrants began only after World War II. Between 1941 and 1961, immigration increased markedly; the foreign-born population grew from 49,928 to 526,188. Since the 1940s, Colombians accounted for the largest percentage of foreign population, although between 1950 and 1961 Spaniards and Italians made up the largest portion of immigrants. The latter two groups moved mostly to urban centers, where they had considerable success as merchants, contractors, and business leaders.
In 1966 the restrictions on nonwhite immigration ended, but by that time whites dominated the economy. As in other parts of Latin America, Spanish and Italian immigrants and their descendants controlled important sectors of the economy, especially the construction industries, export-import enterprises, and small businesses.
European immigration has slowed since the 1960s. However, population movements from Chile, Peru, and Ecuador, as well as from Santo Domingo and Colombia, have increased.
Elizabeth Yabour De Caldera, La población de Venezuela: Un análisis demográfico (1967).
Chen-Yi Chen and Michel Picouet, Dinámica de la población: Caso de Venezuela (1979).
Susan Berglund-Thompson, "The 'Musiues' in Venezuela: Immigration Goals and Reality, 1936–1961" (Ph.D. diss., University of Massachusetts, 1980).
Ermila Troconis De Veracoechea, El proceso de la inmigración en Venezuela (1986).
Juan Almecija B., "El crecimiento demográfico venezolano, 1936–1971," in Boletín de la Academia Nacional de la Historia 71, no. 281 (1988): 131-148.
Pellegrino, Adela. Historia de la inmigración en Venezuela siglos XIX y XX. Caracas: Academia Nacional de Ciencias Económicas, 1989.
Sequera Tamayo, Isbelia, and Rafael J Crazut. La inmigración en Venezuela. Caracas: Academia Nacional de Ciencias Económicas, 1992.
Winthrop R. Wright