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Costa Rica, Nicaragua renew migrant labor agreement

Authorities from Costa Rica and Nicaragua met Friday and renewed the binational agreement that allows the temporary entry of Nicaraguan workers to Costa Rican territory to participate in agricultural activities, mainly in the harvesting of crops.

During the meeting, held at the offices of the General Directorate of Migration in Peñas Blancas, the requirements expressed by agricultural sectors of Costa Rica in relation to the harvesting of various crops, and the procedures to guarantee regular migration, were analyzed. 

Traditionally, Nicaraguan laborers enter Costa Rica to harvest seasonal crops; the majority then return to Nicaragua.

In accordance with the binational agreement, the government of Costa Rica will ensure human, labor, health, social security, and occupational hygiene and safety rights, in accordance with Costa Rican legislation, the Agriculture Ministry said.

The agreement will be valid for seven months from the date of signature, with the possibility of an extension for a similar period. 

A brief history of Nicaraguan labor in Costa Rica

Costa Rican industries, particularly agriculture, have a long history of relying on Nicaraguan labor. 

Their arrival in the country “reflects political and economic events as well as natural disasters,” OECD says. 

A 1972 earthquake in Managua resulted in an increase of migration to Costa Rica, and the numbers of migrants continued to rise during the ongoing conflicts of the 1970s and 80s, followed by economic instability of the 1990s. 

For decades, Costa Rica’s immigration policies have aimed “to maximize the benefits of immigration and protect human rights while protecting citizens’ working and living conditions,” according to OECD. 

In 1993, the “Agreement on Labor Migration between the Government of Costa Rica and the Republic of Nicaragua” established legal avenues for temporary migration. 

“Costa Rica will admit Nicaraguan citizens who wish to engage in periodic agricultural work, mainly sugarcane and coffee, under the migratory category of Non-Residents as migrant workers,” the agreement read, in part. 

In 2010, the General Law on Migration and Foreigners provided a further framework for undocumented immigrants to legalize their status via employment sponsorship. But many private companies did not collaborate with the often-lengthy bureaucratic process and have simply continued hiring unauthorized workers. 

“Of the 75,000 foreign workers estimated working in the agricultural sector by [Costa Rica’s Immigration Administration], just 5,000 have work residencies,” says a 2015 report from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI).

These Nicaraguans work longer hours and earn half the pay as their Costa Rican counterparts, MPI says. And given their undocumented status, there are often few recourses to fight for higher wages or better living conditions. 

“Lack of access to certain public services and to the wider labor market can exacerbate their vulnerability,” OCDE said. 

“This is particularly true for migrants from Nicaragua, who may not access judicial processes out of fear of deportation.” 

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