Nicaraguan Migration in Numbers – Confidential Nicaragua


In the past forty years in particular, Nicaragua has been characterized by the emigration of a significant part of its population. Although the reasons are diverse, economic, political and the consequences of natural events such as earthquakes and hurricanes dominate.

Lack of work, low incomes, the war of the 1970s and 1980s and, most recently, the country’s socio-political crisis since 2018 have driven hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans to leave regularly or irregularly.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 718,000 Nicaraguans out of a total population of 6.6 million had emigrated by mid-2020, which is 10.8% of the population. However, that number can exceed 800,000 given the data from the main receiving countries from Nicaragua and the fact that many people migrate irregularly.

In addition, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR, for its acronym in Spanish) reports that more than 108,000 Nicaraguans have had to leave their country since the socio-political crisis of 2018.

The top 3 destinations for Nicaraguans are Costa Rica, the United States, and Spain, followed by Panama and Canada.

The Nicaraguan migrant population is significant not only because of its size, but also because of its economic contribution to their homeland, which has become a kind of “lifeline” for the economy, which has been in crisis since 2018. Nicaraguans overseas send around $ 12,621.5 million in remittances to their families in Nicaragua, which is 14.6% of gross domestic product.

According to the Central Bank of Nicaragua report, Nicaraguans received $ 152.4 million more by May 2021 than in the first five months of 2020 for a total of $ 705.9 million in remittances.

Up until this point, transfers had come from the United States ($ 535.6 million or 62.4%), followed by Spain ($ 128.8 million, or 15% of the total) and Costa Rica ($ 109.8 million or 12.8%). , according to official information. It was followed by Panama (3.5%) and Canada (1.3%). These five countries together accounted for 95% of the total, according to the source.

CONFIDENCIAL gathered the information from official sources from different countries and international and local organizations in order to represent the Nicaraguan migrant community in its three main goals as accurately as possible.

Nicaraguans in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is the country with the highest percentage of immigrants in Latin America. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Census, based on 2020 Household Survey (ENAHO) data, 80% of the foreign population in Costa Rica were born in Nicaragua.

According to the last census from 2011, 287,766 Nicaraguans lived in Costa Rica. However, migration experts claim that the Nicaraguan population in Costa Rica is not fully included in surveys, censuses and institutional databases, so the data often underestimate the real situation of this population.

The 2017 diagnosis of the migration context of Costa Rica shows that there are 350,000 Nicaraguans living in the country, to which irregular immigrants would be added, a number that is around 100,000 and 200,000 people. There is also seasonal migration of people who move to Costa Rica during the harvest of the main agricultural products and then return to their country of origin.

Although there is data and information that prove the existence of irregular migration, according to experts it is difficult to depict migration phenomena in their entirety using numbers.

In 2018, the Directorate for Migration and Foreigners registered more than 77,000 refugee applications by mid-2021 due to the Nicaraguan crisis caused by the repression of the Ortega Murillo regime.

According to ENAHO, in 2020 there were more than 250,000 Nicaraguans in urban areas and fewer than 100,000 in rural areas. The 2011 census shows that the provinces that most Nicaraguans live in are San José, Alajuela, and Heredia.

The November 2018 study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) entitled Aspects of Nicaraguan Migration in Costa Rica shows that 59% of Nicaraguan migrants are between 13 and 40 years old; that is, they are of full productive age, which is in line with their intentions to find a job and integrate into the labor market.

The same study shows that women have made up just over half of the Nicaraguan immigrant population in Costa Rica as of 2010. In 2016 they made up 54% of all migrants.

Feminization of migration is slightly higher than male migration, but when it comes to analyzing fertility rates by mother’s nationality, feminization becomes more important, the study emphasizes.

In 2020, 17.7% of births in the neighboring country were due to Nicaraguan mothers. According to Gustavo Gática, researcher at the Center for Cultural and Development Research (CICDE), this contribution made by the Nicaraguan community in the country stimulates the demographic structure of the country. He assures that it is a fact that also makes the number of binational families that exist in the country more visible.

As described in the study How immigrants contribute to the economies of developing countries The male immigrants from Nicaragua produced in 2018 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) are heavily represented in crops such as coffee, orange and sugar cane, pineapple, cassava and citrus fruits. You also work in the construction industry.

The majority of Nicaraguan women in Costa Rica work in the household and in commerce.

Of this population, 16.6% work in agriculture, 16.7% in construction, 15.7% in households, 15.1% in trade and, to a lesser extent, 10.5% in industry. Less than 5% occupy professional occupations – on a scientific and intellectual level – as well as technical and medium-sized occupations.

According to ENAHO, almost 100,000 Nicaraguan employees are insured with their employer in Costa Rica in 2020 and almost 120,000 have other insurances. More than 120,000 Nicaraguans have no social security.

In 2021, thanks to an agreement between the UN refugee agency UNHCR and Costa Rica, ten thousand Nicaraguan asylum seekers and refugees will have health insurance in Costa Rica.

Foreigners working in Costa Rica, most of whom are Nicaraguans, contribute 12 percent to the national gross domestic product (GDP), according to a study by the OECD and the ILO.

The wages of workers born in Nicaragua are 60 percent of the wages of workers born in Costa Rica, with the difference being more pronounced for women.

According to the ENAHO study “Costa Rica: People living in poverty by country of birth” in 2020, 47 out of 100 people born in Nicaragua lived in poverty or extreme poverty. Gática points out that, in general, poverty increased in Costa Rica as a result of the pandemic, which affected foreigners the most.

A recent United Nations report on hate speech and social discrimination in Costa Rica found xenophobia to be the main culprit behind this discourse, and the population most affected are Nicaraguans.

This study recorded more than 181,000 xenophobic conversations on social networks between May 2020 and June 2021. Eighty percent of the hate and discrimination messages were deliberate and 76% of them were made by men.

Nicas in the United States

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, ECLAC, notes that migration from Nicaragua to the United States predates that of Costa Rica and originally consisted of political exiles and high-income families.

According to an analysis by the Pew Research Center of the American Community Survey of the US Census Bureau, an estimated 464,000 Nicaraguans lived in the United States in 2017.

The same analysis shows that one-twelfth of the largest Hispanic population living in the United States are Nicaraguans.

The 2017 American Community Survey by the US Census Bureau also shows that the Nicaraguan population is Florida (36%), California (29%), and Texas (6%).

According to social anthropologist Juan Carlos Vargas, lead researcher on the project Ethno-Survey on Migration: Nicaragua-Costa Rica-USA, there is a greater relative presence of children under 15 and over 60 among migrants to the United States in the north of the country, suggesting may indicate family or family migration.

Analysis by the Pew Research Center estimates the average age of Nicaraguans at 34 years.

According to the same report, Nicaraguans have successfully integrated into the US economy and society.

As of May this year, Nicaraguans residing in the United States contributed 62.4% of the remittances that came into the country in 2021.

ECLAC reports that the Nicaraguan population in the United States is more educated than the Costa Rican migrant group and comes from urban sectors of Managua. It is a more permanent migration, partly related to the difficulty of entering this country.

Nicas in Spain

According to the census data published by the National Statistics Institute of Spain, in January 2021, this country recorded just over 57,000 Nicaraguans in 2020, that is, registered as residents in a municipality. Some migrant aid agencies estimate that this could easily be doubled as there are many migrants with irregular migration status.

As of July 2018, more than 25,000 Nicaraguans arrived to escape political persecution by the current government and the political, economic and social crisis. Of these, almost 6,000 have applied for asylum, according to the Asylum and Refugee Office of the Spanish Ministry of the Interior, with Nicaragua being the country with the fourth highest number of applications.

According to the Ministry of Interior of this European country, there were 4,360 positive results for applicants between January 1 and December 31 last year, and among these, more than a thousand Nicaraguans received political asylum in Spain in 2020, which is 25.6. corresponds to% of the approved applications.

The majority of Nicaraguan migrants in Spain are young people who are moving in search of work and better life opportunities. Women in particular are arriving, and according to the National Statistics Institute, there were more than 40,000 Nicaraguan women living in the country in 2020.

Nicaraguans in Spain live mainly in Madrid, Zaragoza, Gipuzkoa and Seville, as the INE finds in its 2020 census.

A study entitled “Un arraigo sobre el alambre” shows that 75% of migrants in Spain have elementary and precarious jobs. Only 25% are employed in service occupations with medium and high qualifications.

Most Nicas in Spain work as geriatric carers, nannies or babysitters, domestic servants, in agriculture, construction and cleaning, according to a recent Nicaragüita Association census that gathered information on more than 3,000 Nicaraguan migrants last April.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidential and translated by our staff


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