Most Nicaraguan Migrants Head South Instead of North

By Jason Peña on October 3, 2019

Since political turmoil erupted in Nicaragua in April of last year, tens of thousands of its citizens have fled toward neighboring countries. Costa Rica is the leading destination

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR), since April 2018, over 83,700 Nicaraguans asked for asylum in other nations, roughly 68,000 of them in Costa Rica. By contrast, in 2017 the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended only 1,721 Nicaraguans, and only 30 people were granted asylum. Despite its small size, next-door Costa Rica had, at least in 2017, a larger total number of Nicaraguans than the U.S. (including earlier migrants), about 294,000 vs. 276,000.

The recent influx has taken a toll on Costa Rica. The head of the country's immigration authority said that, while the migrants are "not being left unprotected," Costa Rica doesn't have the capacity to provide health services and other public resources for both Costa Rican citizens and migrants.

To provide more detailed information on the migrant population, the Costa Rica-based Institute for Municipal Development and Consulting (IFAM) prepared a reported on Nicaraguans who came to the country between April 2018 and June 2019. As a result of surveys and focus groups, IFAM reported that only 42 percent of the migrants had jobs, about half earning less than the minimum wage. It also reported that 22 percent of the recent migrants had sent remittances to Nicaragua, but also that 38 percent of them had received remittances, mostly sent from Nicaragua, but also from the U.S.

In contrast to Guatemala, where a 2017 survey found that virtually all migrants to the U.S. left for economic reasons, almost three-quarters of Nicaraguans surveyed by IFAM said they left because of the socio-political crisis at home, with most saying they either had received direct threats or feared being attacked for political reasons.

Costa Rican immigration authorities deported 1,051 Nicaraguan in 2018. Panama has taken similar enforcement measures to counter the growing Nicaraguan migrant population there.