Venezuelan flight capital takes multiple routes to South Florida

Venezuelans are doing more than buying homes to move their funds and families to South Florida

Protesters demonstrating in Caracas, Venezuela (Photo credit: Diego Urdaneta)
Protesters demonstrating in Caracas, Venezuela (Photo credit: Diego Urdaneta)

Venezuelans still buy homes in South Florida, but many are taking other approaches to distance themselves from the political chaos and social unrest in their home country.

Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, the hand-picked successor of Hugo Chavez, presides over the nation of 31 million residents who are enduring a 700 percent inflation rate, among other problems that have encouraged Venezuelans to move their funds and their families to South Florida.

Weston is nicknamed “Westonzuela” because the Broward County city has so many Venezuelan-born residents. There are 59,000 and they account for 28 percent of city’s population, according to Rafael Pineyro, a native of Venezuela who serves as chief of staff to Juan Carlos Bermudez, mayor of Doral.

Besides just buying South Florida homes, some Venezuelans also invest in South Florida businesses. Foreign nationals seeking U.S. citizenship can qualify for EB-5 visas if they invest at least $500,000 in a business with American employees.

Stephen Bander, an immigration lawyer in Miami, said he has helped 50 clients to obtain EB-5 visas in the last five years, and most of them are Venezuelans.

Bander said he successfully requested expedited processing of some of his Venezuelan clients’ EB-5 applications on humanitarian grounds, due to a lack of medical services and supplies in Venezuela.

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Mike Pappas, president of The Keyes Company, a South Florida-based residential real estate brokerage, said Venezuelans have contacted Keyes agents in Doral about swapping deeply discounted property in Venezuela for South Florida property.

Pappas told the story of an entrepreneur in Venezuela who sold two companies there at distressed prices but held onto 30 acres of land in Broward worth $1 million per acre, which he wants to develop with his two sons.

Matthew Martinez, principal of Miami-based Beacon Hill Group, said his wealthy Venezuelan clients have acquired portfolios of South Florida property that provide income for family members in the tri-county area as well as those who remain in Venezuela, so a selloff of these South Florida properties is unlikely.

A new wave of working-class Venezuelans is moving to South Florida with such small businesses as beauty salons, bakeries and translation services, said Pedro Freyre, chair of the international practice at the Akerman law firm.

With more working-class Venezuelans relocating to South Florida, Venezuela is losing a large part of its labor force. Stories about highly skilled Venezuelans working as Uber drivers in Miami are commonplace.

Pineyro, the Doral mayor’s chief of staff, said he met a Venezuelan man in his 50s cleaning a Walgreens store who identified himself as a neurologist and said he preferred menial labor in South Florida to his life in Venezuela. [U.S. News & World Report]Mike Seemuth