The annual cost estimates for the past five years, based on surveys of thousands of households in those three Central American countries, paint a clear picture of the costs of emigration – and who collects it. profit.
The report says migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador traveling off legal routes with smugglers pay about $1.7 billion a year. Migrants traveling outside legal channels from those countries in caravans or alone earn about $230 million per year. And legal migrants cost about $240 million.
These big numbers are especially significant when you think about where else that money could go, said Ariel Ruiz, the report’s co-lead author and policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. such as financing development projects and public works.
“It’s important not just to talk about the costs, but to talk about the potential and the opportunities that are being drained,” he said.
Paying smugglers is the most expensive way to migrate
A 2018 United Nations report estimated the business of trying to bring people into Mexico and the US illegally is worth around $4 billion a year.
To come up with the estimates in this week’s report, Ruiz said researchers surveyed thousands of households in the area to determine the average amount paid when they tried to immigrate to the United States. that extrapolated based on the number of migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
On average, those surveyed reported that migrants who paid smugglers spent about $7,500, including food and travel expenses along with the smugglers’ fees.
Migrants traveling on their own or in caravans spent an average of $2,900, and those using conventional immigration channels, such as student visas or refugee resettlement, spent $4,500.
Some are saddled with debt that is difficult to pay off — especially if the migrants don’t make it to the United States successfully, the report notes.
Why did these migrants make the journey?
Among other findings:
• The vast majority (92%) surveyed said economic reasons were behind the decision to migrate. Other factors noted are climate disasters, violence and food insecurity. The money spent on migration is “a lot of money,” says Ruiz, but the return on investment is in some respects substantial when so many of them are in such precarious conditions in the country. their country of origin. “
• Many people are considering emigrating. In 2021, survey respondents in 43% of households said they were considering international migration, compared with 8% in 2019. But only a small fraction of households – 3% – said they are making specific plans to migrate.
• Nearly a third of households (29%) reported receiving money from migrants abroad. They describe that money as a lifeline is used to meet immediate living and expenses.
The report’s authors are calling on governments to do more
The organizations behind the report are recommending that governments do more to address the root causes of migration in Central America. That’s what American officials say they’re working on, as do other leaders in the region.
But those efforts will take time, Ruiz said.
“To really address the root causes of migration, it will take years, if not a decade, to address everything that we are seeing,” he said.
As a starting point, the report’s authors recommend expanding social protection programs and stimulating investment to increase economic opportunity in the region.
Another important recommendation: The United States and other countries offer more legal avenues for migrants from Central America.
If that happens, the report says, much of the money migrants spend will go to governments rather than clandestine smuggling networks.
Matt Rivers, Luis Chaparro, Natalie Gallón and Geneva Sands of CNN contributed to this report.