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Rising Scale & Diversity of Migration to Costa Rica Requires Improvements to Immigrant Integration Policies to Foster Long-Term Benefits & Social Cohesion
Press Release
Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Rising Scale & Diversity of Migration to Costa Rica Requires Improvements to Immigrant Integration Policies to Foster Long-Term Benefits & Social Cohesion

WASHINGTON — Though Costa Rica has a long history of immigration as one of the top destinations in Latin America, the arrival of significant numbers of newcomers since 2015 has taxed the system. These arrivals range from refugees and migrants from Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela who desire permanent settlement, to seasonal migrants from neighboring countries and extracontinental migrants transiting Costa Rica en route to destinations further north. As Costa Rica’s immigrant population continues to grow, designing policies that effectively integrate new arrivals is central to leveraging the long-term benefits migration can offer and reducing societal tensions, a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report highlights.

The report, The State of Costa Rican Migration and Immigrant Integration Policy, examines the state of institutions and policies that support integration and migrants’ access to services in four key areas: regularization and registration, health, education and employment. Using a particular methodology that draws on stakeholder interviews and a literature review to examine performance in these four areas, the report’s authors identify where the Costa Rican migration system is most advanced and where obstacles and shortcomings remain.

“The migration dynamics Costa Rica is experiencing demand a renewed approach to immigrant integration—one that encompasses the many policy areas shaping migrant inclusion and that takes into consideration the diversity within the country’s immigrant population,” write analysts Diego Chaves-González and María Jesús Mora of MPI’s Latin America and Caribbean Initiative.

Among the needed changes, the authors argue, is adjustment of Costa Rica’s 2009 migration law, which had been heralded as a pioneering advance for its introduction of the concept of integration and human-rights safeguards but is now outmoded as the scale and nature of migration has changed. While the law includes a wide array of migrant categories for registration and regularization, the government has faced difficulty meeting demands amid rising migration.

The high costs and difficult-to-meet requirements of many migration categories have created a situation in which Costa Rica’s system of international protection is the only accessible regularization mechanism for many. Expanding legal migration pathways could be crucial to alleviate the pressures on the humanitarian protection system and secure migrants’ first step towards integration, the report notes. Moreover, better coordination among Costa Rican government entities and governments in the region, and between them and the private sector and international cooperation agencies, could be key to aligning objectives and offsetting costs.

Among other findings:

  • Access to medical care—something that has become even more vital during the COVID-19 pandemic—varies by immigrants’ status. Access to health care is linked to the formal labor market, putting it out of reach for many of those who work informally.
  • Of all the sectors examined, the educational sector is the one with the most robust legal framework when it comes to facilitating immigrant integration. The country offers basic public education regardless of migration status. However, as recent arrivals have included significant numbers of migrants and refugees with higher levels of education, ensuring they are able to study at the university level will be an important way of making sure Costa Rica fully benefits from these newcomers’ skills and expertise, while also supporting their integration.
  • Costa Rican law seeks to ensure that foreign workers complement, rather than displace, native-born workers. However, the government’s labor market evaluations often do not reflect present conditions and needs, in the process limiting immigrants’ access to the formal labor market while also failing to adequately meet employer demands.

“Costa Rica must stay focused on the long-term benefits that migration can bring, even while public services work to overcome the challenges inherent to the sudden arrival of so many people,” the report concludes. “If done well, improvements to how Costa Rica supports immigrant integration will make it easier for the country’s institutions to balance their competing obligations and strengthen society as a whole.”

You can read the report here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/costa-rican-migration-immigrant-integration-policy.

And in Spanish here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/politica-migratoria-integracion-costa-rica.