Nicaraguan Migrants Travel to Panama After Northern Neighbors Tighten Borders

By Jason Peña on January 9, 2020

The ongoing socio-political crisis in Nicaragua under left-wing President Daniel Ortega has caused large numbers of Nicaraguans to migrate to neighboring nations in Latin America. Similar to Costa Rica, Panama is facing numerous issues related to the influx of Nicaraguan migrants.

According to Panamanian Director of the National Migration Service, Samira Gozaine, the new immigration policies implemented by Guatemala and Mexico have shifted Nicaraguan migrants south. The intensification of border security by the two nations has stymied Nicaraguan migration to the United States.

Nicaraguan nationals tend to enter Panama illegally to gain residency.

The number of Nicaraguans that entered Panama by year is shown below:

Year Nicaraguans
Who Entered Panama
Who Left Panama
Who Stayed in Panama
Who Applied for Residency
in Panama
2017 44,391 43,191 1,039 481
2018 53,940 44,156 9,784 714
2019 52,351 42,571 9,780 777

The number of Nicaraguans applying for residency in Panama has increased each year. Roughly 481 permits for residency were submitted in 2017. In 2018, the number increased to 714, and then to 777 in 2019.

Nicaraguans were the third most deported nationality behind Venezuelans and Colombians, respectively.

Panama also faces large flows of northbound migration from its border with Colombia. Hundreds of migrants from South America, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean enter Panama through the Darien Jungle as a transit point to the United States.

The indigenous communities of Panama have been overwhelmed with illegal immigration as well. Over 5,000 migrants have passed through the indigenous area of Gualaca, located in western Panama.

The Director of Migration Gozaine attributes Panama's migration problems to the Controlled Flow Policy it has with Costa Rica.

The purpose of the agreement was to allow the passage of thousands of U.S.-bound Cuban migrants attempting to cross through Costa Rica and Panama. After Nicaragua sealed its border to migrants in late 2015, the agreement was made to ease the transition of stranded migrants to reach the United States.

However, the agreement has allowed migrants to enter Costa Rica and Panama in large numbers, at times overwhelming government resources.