Venezuela is struggling to fight its way out of an economic recession, and to aid the effort has placed strict controls on sending money out of the country – even when it belongs to someone living abroad.
In order for students to receive their money from their Venezuelan bank accounts to pay for school, a difficult and time-consuming exchange process must be completed. And for some students, it’s making education almost impossible.
Annibal Reyes, a communication and journalism major, said he couldn’t register for the spring semester because his money is held in a Venezuelan bank. In order to pay off his $17,000 debt for the fall semester, Reyes said, he has to exchange his Venezuelan bolívar to U.S dollars. However, a process that is estimated to take 10 days has now turned into four months.
Last October Reyes submitted a 90 page folder, which included a list of expenses and letters from UNM. He said he has not received word yet on the status of the exchange. For now, UNM has halted his enrollment for this semester. He must pay at least half of his debt by Feb. 20 or he has to go home, he said.
“I don’t want to leave UNM. I really love this place. This is like my second home,” Reyes said. “I came here by myself — all my family is over there. I started a new life here, making new friends, being involved, and I feel like a part of UNM.”
Linda Melville, associate director at the Global Education Office, called the process for the exchange that currently affects around 22 Venezuelan students “confusing and convoluted.” GEO has helped by writing letters in Spanish and English multiple times and reaching out to the Venezuelan government, but, she said, nothing more can be done.
The process begins with students submitting a report, which then goes to the Venezuelan consulate. A board then reviews the request for exchange, and if approved the money is exchanged, she said.
“There’s not much we can do. This is a political problem, so we tried to outreach to the consulate. We tried to work with students who want letters rewritten a certain way, but we can’t effect change with the Venezuelan government,” Melville said. “That’s really at a higher political level than us. We can’t do anything. That’s the thing that is really frustrating about it.”
Meville said Venezuela is the only country that requires the student and the state institution to write letters regarding expenditures in order for the students to exchange their own money.
“It’s not just us, this is every Venezuelan person who is in the U.S. and certainly every student has to go through the same process. A lot of institutions are in the same boat as we are,” Meville said.
Reyes has approached the Global Education Office, the Dean of Students, the Bursar’s Office, a community director at the dorms, and professors at the music department looking for help, but they have been unable to assist him except through emotional support, he said.
“I’m not asking for them to just ignore the debt. No, I’m just asking for time. Because if they give me time for this semester, that will give me some time with my government to send me some money or move resources,” Reyes said.
Daniela Collazos, a special education freshman, said she is also having difficulties exchanging her money. She started the paperwork in May 2014 and in five months she spent $500 on the processing fees alone.
Collazos was able to pay for the fall semester because she had been saving money since arriving in the United States in 2013.
However, now Collazos is looking for a job, which is hard for her because she has no experience. She has an $8,000 debt for the spring semester, she said.
“I cry a lot at night because it’s impossible to get the money,” she said.
Dean of Students Tomás Aguirre said in an email that few international students come to his office with similar issues, but he has helped by providing requested documents from their respective government.
Aguirre said GEO does everything in their power to assist international students including working with other departments on campus including the Bursar’s Office, Office of the Registar and Housing.
The Bursar’s Office cannot discuss a specific student’s balance because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, an office representative said.
However, all students with a $25 past due balance receives a hold on their account. Throughout the year, the hold will be lifted if the students get their balance below $200, but for now Reyes has been informed of what he needs to pay in order to have his hold lifted, the representative said.
The only thing left for Collazos and Reyes is to wait for an answer from the Venezuelan government.
Lauren Marvin is the Culture Editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at culture @dailylobo.com or on Twitter @LaurenMarvin.