Illegal Migrants In Costa Rica, Similar To US?

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    I have been a reader of this very informative web site for over a year. I would like to thank Scott for his commitment to solid honest information about Costa Rica & its people. I plan to visit there within the next couple of years or less as I have a lot of interest in Costa Rica, the people and its emphasis on being earth/ecologically friendly.

    I haven’t posted before but I noticed this new big story about the many Illegal Nicaraguan Migrants in Costa Rica. This issue is now big news because of all the recent attention to the 12 million or more Illegal Migrants in the US. This is a complex issue with Costa Rica trying to do something in a different way than the current proposals in the US congress and Senate. One thing that is not in the article is that I understand that Costa Rican border police are not able to carry guns on their side of the border river to prevent illegal entry.

    Scott, this article may be a better fit in the news section but I can only post it here so please feel free to move it or tell me if you want me to just post an excerpt and the link to the full article. I was also wondering what is your analysis of this story plus your thoughts on the legal & illegal migrant situation there? – *Story Link at bottom*:

    Tensions Rise In Costa Rica With Influx Of Nicaraguans
    Migrants find hostility amid stagnant economy

    By Marla Dickerson and Rebecca Kimitch, Los Angeles Times  |  April 2, 2006

    SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica — Crime and joblessness have long plagued the tough Leon XIII neighborhood of Costa Rica’s capital, where residents such as Alexandra Martínez do their best to steer clear of broken pavement and drug dealers on street corners.

    But the homemaker says things have gotten worse in the last few years. Her explanation: ‘There are a lot of Nicas here,” she said, using a slang term for Nicaraguans.

    Martínez, 37, says the immigrants, many of them undocumented, are hard-drinking, aggressive people who compete with Costa Ricans for jobs and leach off the nation’s public services. She approves of a recent federal law aimed at stemming the influx.

    ‘It’s the biggest problem we face in the country,” Martínez said.

    Many Costa Ricans are more temperate than Martínez when discussing immigration. But the continued southward flow of impoverished Nicaraguans into Central America’s most prosperous nation has inflamed tensions between these neighbors.

    The 192-mile-long border is virtually unguarded, allowing Nicaraguans to slip easily into Costa Rica, where the per capita gross national income of $4,700 is six times higher than in Nicaragua.
    Some analysts say Costa Rica has benefited from the steady supply of cheap labor to harvest the nation’s bananas and coffee, mop its floors, and tend to its children. Costa Rica boasts the region’s highest standard of living and provides universal healthcare. The nation has invested heavily in education and boasts a thriving technology industry.

    But nagging poverty, sluggish economic growth, and fraying of the social safety net have many Costa Ricans fearful that uncontrolled immigration is undermining their hard-won gains.

    An estimated 180,000 undocumented Nicaraguans account for about 4.5 percent of the nation’s population.

    Including legal residents, specialists calculate that as much as 15 percent of Costa Rica’s population is foreign-born. Nicaraguans, who make up most of that population, have been arriving in large numbers for the last 25 years because of war, natural disasters, and social instability in their country.
    ‘Even the United States would have problems” absorbing so many newcomers, said economist Eduardo Lizano, president of Academy of Central America, a think tank in San José.

    Approved late last year and slated to be implemented in August, Costa Rica’s new immigration law is aimed largely at those who profit from undocumented workers. It makes human trafficking a crime punishable by up to six years in prison. And it significantly hikes fines on Costa Ricans caught employing illegal immigrants — to $3,600 per violation, up from as little as $10, said Johnny Marín, Costa Rica’s immigration director.

    Marín said immigration had largely been a good thing, providing Costa Rica with labor and cultural diversity. But he said rising acrimony necessitated an overhaul.

    Costa Ricans blame Nicaraguans and other foreigners for all manner of ills, Marín said. News reports frequently note the nationalities of foreigners accused of crimes, particularly Nicaraguans and Colombians.

    The immigration issue has added to long-running tensions between Costa Rica and its northern neighbor. The countries are embroiled in a dispute over navigation rights to the San Juan River. Nicaragua recalled its ambassador to Costa Rica last fall and previously sent troops to the border region, a move viewed as particularly provocative by Costa Rica, which has no standing army.

    Nicaraguans were incensed by the death of Natividad Canda Mairena, a Nicaraguan living in Costa Rica. A suspected burglar, Canda was mauled by a Rottweiler guard dog for 1 1/2 hours in November while bystanders watched. The attack prompted a barrage of jokes in Costa Rica, including a cartoon showing a pack of Rottweilers defending Costa Rica’s northern border.

    Immigrant advocates say Costa Rica’s overhaul probably would not stem the tide of job seekers.

    Employers have come to rely on this cheap source of labor. And desperation knows no borders, said Gustavo Gatica, who works with Pastoral Social, an immigrant rights group affiliated with the Catholic Church in San José.

    ‘As long as there is hunger, as long as there is poverty, immigration won’t be stopped,” Gatica said.


    Thank you for bringing this to our attention Michael, I did not see this…

    There are a lot of people who have moved to Costa Rica legally and illegaly, trying to improve their quality of lives.

    I am British and here (legally) and have a quality of life that I could only enjoy in the US or UK if I earned about five times as much as I do here so really can not blame others for trying to do the same…

    This article tells it like it is. Many of my Tico friends are respectful of the Nicaraguans but many are not because they are using much of the resources of the country and one area in particular – healthcare services – seems to be a real sore spot!

    Reminds me of the UK. Most of the Brits I know are sick to death of all sorts of immigrants showing up in the UK demanding health care and taking services and resources that they have paid for throughout their lives with their National Health Insurance contributions…

    The good news in comparison, is that the Nicaraguans are A: Catholic and B: Speak Spanish and for the most part, they work hard.

    Makes you wonder why some people continue to promote Nicaragua as such a great place to live when so many of them are trying to escape to Costa Rica to improve their lives. You don’t see Ticos fleeing to Nicaragua to improve the quality of their lives…

    What’s the solution? I have no bloody idea! If I did, the governments of the US, UK and most other first world nations would be banging on my door asking for help with their immigration problems….

    Scott – Founder

    PS. I would suggest that the 180,000 number of “undocumented Nicaraguans” is probably WAY below the real number.


    Ditto in Canada too re: immigrants and health care.


    I’m curious about how cheap Nica labor is compared to employing a Tico for the same job? The salaries for workers are already pretty low — as an example, my gardener earns $1.42 an hour. What would a Nica charge for this same job?


    I don’t know but as a “guest” in this country, I would encourage you to pay the correct wage to anyone that you employ.

    If you are caught employing “illegal” aliens, the penalties can be quite severe (not sure if this is law yet or not) so would also encourage you as a “guest” in this country to avoid hiring any illegal immigrants.



    I have had no personal experience employing an illegal migrant, but have talked to people here in the Central Pacific area that say the Nica’s are sometimes willing to work for half of what would be the norm for a Tico. I personally think this is wrong and is exploitation, but on the same hand I do not support illegal immigration into any country. The U.S.has a major problem and is trying to address it as is Costa Rica. Both countries in many respects are being vilified for wanting to stem the tide of illegal immigrants. In short, what part of Illegal do they not understand? It always amazes me the arrogance of those breaking the law, willing to march in porotest, in the country they are occupying illegally, and demand services that the honest, legal residents are paying the bill for. If you don’t like your home then you need to take steps to make it better. You don’t go to your next door neighbor, break into his home and tell him “I like your house better so I’m going to live here instead. Oh, and by the way please make sure to sign me up for your healthcare plan and pay the premium for me……and please make sure the fridge and cabinets are kept stocked for me. I’m willing to work hard, but I probably won’t pay any taxes on what I earn to pay for any of the services I use. You make more than me, you can pay for those services. Lastly, don’t you dare critisize me and call me illegal….I’m a migrant and just want to make a better life for myself and my family”.


    I didn’t mean to imply that I was interested in hiring an illegal Nica worker, I was just curious about these statements that they will work cheaper than a Tico. if my Tico gardener works for $1.42 an hour, how much does a Nica charge that would be so much cheaper that I would hire someone illegal and run the risk of getting caught just to save what, $.25, $.50?


    aren’t americans that don’t go throught the proper channels to stay in costa rica, and have been there for years illegal? and no better than the nica’s?why do they not research that? does owning A biz or being american change the rules to the game?


    no one said they were not illegal and no one said they were any better than the Nica’s. I believe in a countries soveriegnty and that their laws should be respected. That goes for Americans living in Costa Rica or anyone else living here. You ask why they do not research the number of Americans living here illegally. I think you could pretty well be gaurenteed if the American living here illegally was not supporting himself and was using the countries social and welfare programs that are meant for it’s citizens he would be just as villified as the next guy, and be promptly deported if detained. The fact that the American may be able to support himself and may be putting quite a bit of money into the local economy doesn’t make him any more legal. The fact that he is not a burden to the society and is not taking away a job from a Tico is one reason they don’t investigate that issue. In many cases he is supplying jobs to more than one Tico. None of this makes him any better of a person, nor does it make any difference as to his legal status, nor am I saying it is ok. I am simply answering your question, “why do they not research that”? Your apparent disgust should be directed towards the Costa Rican authorities that allow the rules to be changed for one and not another and in doing so are not even respecting their own countries laws.


    Americans that are here “illegally” are certainly “no better” than Nicaraguans who are here illegally (the US Constitution also agrees saying “All men are created equal”) but, I don’t know of any Americans that come here with catastrophic ilnesses and take advantage of the emergency health care system as many people accuse the Nicaraguans of doing.

    If I was a poor Nicaraguan, I would do the same.

    Scott – Founder


    dkt2u brings up some good points and I know of a few cases where Americans working here illegally were reported to the immigration authoritites …

    As an example, a real estate agent working WITHOUT the correct residency was reported to the authorities by other local US real estate agents who were working here legally and paying the taxes they should be paying (which few real estate agents do…)

    Was this jealousy? Selfishness? I don’t think so… You either play the game by the rules or you get sent off the field, right?

    I am British, living and working here legally and plough all of my income back into Costa Rica and yes, I will be paying a lot more in taxes this year.



    I do not have apparent disgust I have curiosity. I wish to move. doing it legally is in the order of things to do. I asked what I did because their are those that will never conform.


    when people have been exploited and brutalized by there government or foreign governments(think U.S. in central America) it’s not so easy to just make your country more habitable. Not when you can not work or eat or are under threat of harm for having a contrary opinion.Can you imagine the stress someone is under to leave there home and all they know and love and drag there family with them through the muck? Do really think your speech about staying and making your country better is really relative??? These are desperate people, not Americans looking for a cheaper home with a pool and ocean view. The U.S. and the rest of the “industrialized nations” needs to offer more than the world bank or W.T.O, our “help” only comes when there is something in it for us and that needs to stop. Through colonialism and greed we have wrecked and continue to wreck countries and along with that peoples lives. And if you believe it’s in the name of democracy my opinion is your fooling yourself.


    If CAFTA passes the worst is yet to come for Costa Rica. The big monoculture agribusiness goliaths will take over all the small farms, displacing the little farmer who will have no way to grow food for his family because his farm will now be growing some agricrop of GMO foods — like cotton — that he won’t be able to eat. This is what happened in Mexico with NAFTA and is partially responsible for the influx of farm workers to our country. I won’t even go into what we did in Ecuador or other Latin American countries that forced a migration to the north just in the name of survival. We leave an indelible stamp on the culture and civilization wherever we stick our greedy little fingers.

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