Nicaraguan migration in figures – Confidencial Nicaragua

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Nicaragua, especially over the past forty years, has been characterized by the emigration of a significant portion of its population. Although the reasons are diverse, the main ones are economic, political and the consequences of natural events such as earthquakes and hurricanes.

The lack of jobs, low incomes, the war of the 1970s and 1980s and, more recently, the socio-political crisis of the country since 2018, have pushed hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans to leave, on a regular or irregular basis.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 718,000 Nicaraguans emigrated in mid-2020, out of a total population of 6.6 million, or the equivalent of 10.8% of the population. However, this number can exceed 800,000, if we take into account the data recorded by the main host countries of Nicaraguan migrants and the fact that many people migrate irregularly.

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

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


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

According to the Central Bank of Nicaragua report, until May 2021, Nicaraguans received $ 152.4 million more than what was captured in the first five months of 2020, when they totaled 705, $ 9 million in remittances.

Until that date, transfers came from the United States ($ 535.6 million, or 62.4%), followed by Spain ($ 128.8 million, or 15% of the total) and the Costa Rica ($ 109.8 million, or 12.8%), according to official information. Next come 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 in different countries and international and local organizations, in order to present as faithfully as possible the Nicaraguan migrant community in its three main destinations.

Nicaraguans in Costa Rica

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

According to the last population census, dating 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 underestimates the real situation of this population.

The Diagnosis of the migratory context of Costa Rica 2017, indicates that 350,000 Nicaraguans live in the country, to which would be added the irregular immigrants, that is to say a number which turns around 100,000 and 200,000 people. There is also seasonal migration, with people moving to Costa Rica during the harvest of major agricultural products and then returning to their countries of origin.

Although there are data and information that confirm the existence of irregular migration, experts say migration phenomena are difficult to describe in their entirety through numbers.

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

According to ENAHO, in 2020 there were more than 250,000 Nicaraguans in urban areas and less than 100,000 in rural areas. The 2011 national census indicates that the provinces where most Nicaraguans reside are San José, Alajuela and Heredia.


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

The same study reveals that since 2010, women represent just over half of the Nicaraguan immigrant population in Costa Rica. In 2016, they represented 54% of all migrants.

Although slightly higher than male migration, the feminization of migration becomes more relevant when analyzing fertility rates by nationality of the mother, this study points out.

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

As described in the study How immigrants contribute to the economy of developing countries produced in 2018 by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Labor Organization (ILO), Nicaraguan immigrant men are strongly represented in crops such as coffee, orange and sugar cane , pineapple, cassava and citrus fruits. They also work in the construction industry.

The majority of Nicaraguan women in Costa Rica work in domestic services and commerce.

Of this population, 16.6% work in agriculture, 16.7% in construction, 15.7% in domestic work, 15.1% in commerce and, to a lesser extent, 10.5% in industry. Less than 5% hold professional jobs – at scientific and intellectual level – as well as technical and intermediate professional jobs.

According to ENAHO, in Costa Rica in 2020, nearly 100,000 Nicaraguan salaried workers are insured by their employer and nearly 120,000 have other types of insurance. Over 120,000 Nicaraguans have no social security.

In 2021, thanks to an agreement between the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR and Costa Rica, ten thousand Nicaraguan asylum seekers and refugees in Costa Rica will benefit from health insurance.

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

The salary of workers born in Nicaragua is equivalent to 60 percent of the salary earned by workers born in Costa Rica, and the difference is more marked for women.

According to the ENAHO study “Costa Rica: Population Living in Poverty by Country of Birth”, 47 out of 100 people born in Nicaragua were living in poverty or extreme poverty in 2020. Gática says we must keep in mind mind that in general, poverty has increased in Costa Rica due to the pandemic and this has affected foreigners the most.

A recent United Nations report on hate speech and discrimination on social media carried out in Costa Rica revealed that xenophobia is the main cause of this speech, and that the population most affected is Nicaraguan.

This study captured over 181,000 xenophobic social media conversations between May 2020 and June 2021. Eighty percent of hate and discrimination posts were clearly intentional and 76% of them were written by men.

Nicas in the United States

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, ECLAC, says Nicaraguan migration to the United States is older than that to Costa Rica and is originally made up of political exiles and high-income families. .

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

The same analysis indicates that one-twelfth of the largest population of Hispanic origin living in the United States is Nicaraguan.

The 2017 US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey also indicates that the Nicaraguan population is concentrated in Florida (36%), California (29%) and Texas (6%).


According to social anthropologist Juan Carlos Vargas, principal researcher of the Ethno-Migration Survey: Nicaragua-Costa Rica-United States project, in the northern country there is a greater relative presence of children under 15 years and over 60 years among migrants to the United States, which may be indicative of family or family group migration.

The Pew Research Center analysis estimates that the average age of Nicaraguans is 34 years old.

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

So far in May of this year, Nicaraguans residing in the United States have contributed 62.4% of remittances arriving in the country so far in 2021.

ECLAC records that the Nicaraguan population in the United States has higher levels of education than the Costa Rican migratory group and originates from the urban areas of Managua. This is a more permanent migration, associated, in part, with the difficulty of entering this country.

Nicas in Spain

According to census data published by the National Institute of Statistics of Spain, in January 2021 this country recorded a little more than 57,000 Nicaraguans in 2020, that is to say registered in a municipality as inhabitants . Some migrant aid organizations believe that this figure could easily be doubled, as many migrants are in an irregular situation.

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

According to the interior ministry of this European country, between January 1 and December 31 of last year, there were 4,360 favorable results for applicants and, among these, more than a thousand Nicaraguans obtained political asylum in Spain in 2020, representing 25.6% of approved applications.

The majority of Nicaraguan migrants in Spain are young people who move in search of employment and better life opportunities. It is mainly women who arrive, and according to the National Institute of Statistics in 2020, there were more than 40,000 Nicaraguan women residing in the country.

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


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

Most Nicas in Spain work as caregivers for the elderly, as nannies or babysitters, as domestic workers, in agriculture, construction and cleaning, according to a recent census carried out by the Nicaragüita association, which collected information on more than 3,000 Nicaraguan migrants. last April.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our team


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