Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 November 2015, 08:46 GMT

Costa Rica: Treatment of, or discrimination against, Costa Ricans of Nicaraguan heritage in schooling, employment, housing and general social situations

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 23 January 2002
Citation / Document Symbol CRI38218.E
Reference 5
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Costa Rica: Treatment of, or discrimination against, Costa Ricans of Nicaraguan heritage in schooling, employment, housing and general social situations, 23 January 2002, CRI38218.E, available at: [accessed 25 November 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

No reference to discrimination or to any particular treatment of Costa Ricans of Nicaraguan heritage could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

However, numerous sources refer to the situation of Nicaraguan immigrants, both legal and illegal, as a recurring issue of controversy. One of the most recent reports available refers to the results of a 2000 census, the first one carried out in Costa Rica since 1984 (Latin American Regional Reports 20 Feb. 2001, 3).The report states that an amnesty for illegal Nicaraguan immigrants in late- 1998 and 1999 "encouraged about 150,000 Nicaraguans to legalise their situation, but many more did not come forward" (ibid.). The report adds that

The best estimates are that up to 500,000 Nicaraguans are living and working in Costa Rica. The presence of such a large number of newcomers has been a severe strain on services such as health, education and housing, and has caused considerable resentment among the native population, who tend to blame the Nicaraguans for everything from long waits at hospital casualty departments to rising violent crime figures. Anti-Nicaraguan jokes are becoming commonplace (ibid.).

The same report states that "there are about 1m children in the education system, from primary schools up to universities, and about 30,000 of them, at the bottom of the pyramid, are Nicaraguans," and adds that "the ministry said it built 260 new classrooms last year alone, in areas with a high Nicaraguan population" (ibid.). Finally, the article states that the President of Costa Rica has appealed to foreign countries – including Canada – for assistance in "low-cost housing for Nicaraguan immigrants, who tend to live in overcrowded slums in Costa Rica," while the vice-president has reportedly "voiced the feelings of many Costa Ricans, inside and outside government, when she listed immigration as one of the causes of an increase in poverty, which affects more than 21% of the population of Costa Rica" (ibid.).

An earlier report referring to the 1998-1999 amnesty extended to hundreds of thousands of Central Americans – "mainly from neighbouring Nicaragua" – illegally residing in Costa Rica, points out that this is "the fourth of its kind to go into effect in the past 20 years," adding that "successive governments ... have tried to regularize the situation of undocumented Nicaraguans ... in order to incorporate them into the formal economy and get them to make societal contributions" (IPS 1 Feb. 1999). The source states that the director-general of the Migration and Alien Status Office "pointed out that once the foreigners legalize their situation, they will enjoy the same rights as Costa Ricans, but will be subject to the same obligations as of July 31 [1999], such as paying into the public health and social security systems and paying taxes" (ibid.). The report quotes a study by the Commission for the Defence of Human Rights in Central America (CODEHUCA) which indicated that "the situation of undocumented Nicaraguans in Costa Rica was indeed difficult," pointing out that "they are easy prey for Costa Rican employers and authorities, and even, frequently, fellow Nicaraguans who have a different immigration status" (ibid.). Finally, the report states that "in spite of the various opportunities offered by the government to regularize their status, not many undocumented workers have responded to the call – a phenomenon the study attributed to 'the lack of a culture of documentation in Nicaragua'" (ibid.).

In 1998, before the latest amnesty, a report stated that there were "between 400,000 and 500,000 Nicaraguans living and working in Costa Rica at any one time, or about 15% of the country's total population" (Latin American Regional Reports 12 May 1998). The article reported that "the treatment and status of Nicaraguans in Costa Rica, a much more prosperous and stable country, have been sources of constant friction between the two countries," adding that "the efforts of [then] President Figueres to induce Nicaraguans to regularise their situation in Costa Rica, both to protect them and to force them to contribute to the creaking social security system, have been largely ineffective: only 50,000 sought work permits during a recent amnesty period" (ibid.).

Earlier references to the situation of Nicaraguan refugees and migrants in Costa Rica can be found in CRI17062.E of 13 April 1994 and CRI9670 of 6 November 1990.

Please find attached a copy of the most recent article referring to the situation of Nicaraguan migrants in Costa Rica, which focuses primarily on women – who reportedly constitute a majority of the immigrants – and their situation in the domestic service sector, where a majority of Nicaraguan women are employed (CAR 11 Jan. 2002).

Please note that the above-quoted reports and other documents consulted in researching this information request did not specifically refer to Costa Rican citizens of Nicaraguan heritage, but rather to Nicaraguan legal or illegal immigrants.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Central America Report (CAR) [Guatemala City]. 11 January 2002. "Costa Rica/Nicaragua: Women Swell Immigrant Ranks." [Accessed 21 Jan. 2002]

Inter Press Service (IPS). 1 February 1999. Maricel Sequeira. "Rights – Costa Rica: Amnesty For Central American Immigrants." (NEXIS)

Latin American Regional Reports: Caribbean & Central America Report [London]. 20 February 2001. "Immigrants 'Boost Population Growth'; Government Tries to Quantify Impact of Nicaraguan Influx."

_____. 12 May 1998. "Scandal Rocks Figueres Cabinet; Labour minister Quits over Nicaraguan Work Permits." (NEXIS)


Central America Report (CAR) [Guatemala City]. 11 January 2002. "Costa Rica/Nicaragua: Women Swell Immigrant Ranks." [Accessed 21 Jan. 2002]

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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